La Cage Aux Folles

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton

****

THIS award laden 1983 musical farce was a big hit almost 20 years ago when Pro Am Productions produced it at the Grand on what was to be a remarkable nine year journey around the country.

It originated as a sort of thank you after his own battle with cancer by Jeremy Hobbs and the production made a substantial donation to the Compton Hospice in Wolverhampton.

The revival is helping the same cause with Jeremy, manfully battling a throat infection on opening night, as Georges, the owner of a transvestite nightclub in St Tropez, and star of the original, Tony O'Rourke, still shining bright, reprising the role of Albin, his gay, transvestite, drag queen lover.

The pair are helped or hindered by their butler, or is it maid Jacob, played by the larger than life – in more ways than one – Donovan Cary who is a mountain of fun.

The plot is simple. Georges' son Jean Michel (George Stuart) wants to marry  Anne (Adele Robinson) and has invited her parents, the ultra right-wing, anti-gay, anti-transvestite and anti-anything not married and missionary politician Edward Dindon (Steve Bracey) and his wife Marie (Julia Tromans) to meet his parents. Parents being the operative word, father and  . . . mother.

Mother being a one night stand of a somewhat investigative nature by the gay Georges backstage in Paris 24 years ago.

Jean Michel, has been raised by his father and his lover but wants Albin out of the way and his real mother in for the night – which is devastating to Albin but when the real mother, as usual sends her apologies, he manfully, or in this case, womanfully steps in as the “wife”

SAD AND MOVING

It times it is funny at times very sad and moving, much more so in 1983 when the show opened on Broadway when openly gay men could face a torrid time. Highlights of the show were Albin's solos as the aging, fading drag artist first reflects on his life with A little More Mascara and then proclaims it with the moving gay anthem, I am what I am.

Opening night was unfortunately beset with problems though, particularly with the brought in sound equipment with George Stuart, a student at Birmingham Conservatoire, crackling like a bowl of Rice Krispies whenever he moved, a trait picked up by other characters leaving the sound techs struggling to find levels  with volumes going up and down like a department store lift, while lighting cues were all a bit hit and miss.

There were times when the excellent orchestra, from The Midland Concert Orchestra, under Musical Director Jonathan Hill drowned out dialogue with background music, so work on levels needed there.

It was always a risk that would have to be taken as the  show could not get in until the Russian Ballet left after midnight on the day of opening night.

That meant  Orchestra in during the night and an 8am start for first full rehearsals – less than 12 hours to show time - and the all important tech rehearsals- and as anyone who has ever been in a big show can tell you, techs in unfamiliar surroundings can take up most of a day and still be flying by the seat of their sliders.

SLICK AND WELL REHEARSED

The show was helped by the fact it had recently been produced by Stourbridge Amateur Operatic Society which provided the bulk of the amateurs and the director of their show, Mike Capri, so the chorus numbers from Les Cagelles – a mix of women and men in drag - and the Birds, who were . . . well birds, looked slick and well rehearsed as did the whole show apart from the technical hiccoughs.

No doubt these will be sorted out for the rest of the run to leave an enjoyable show.

One of the funniest moment, incidentally, came entirely unintentionally towards the end when Dindon under siege from the Press is wanting to be rescued by Georges and Albin and says” Isn't it about time you got me out of here?”

And Gorges replies: “Well there is a way . . . “ At which point, behind them,  the door to the apartment developed a mind of its own and slowly swung open. It was that sort of evening. To 25-02-12.

Roger Clarke

And in the posh frock at the back . . .

****

IT was back in 1993 that Pro Am Productions launched their version of this heart-warming musical at the Grand, and its welcome return for a 20th anniversary event is helping raise funds for the local Compton Hospice.

As the official programme explains, however, it would not have been possible without the support of Stourbridge Amateur Operatic Society who had put on the show as recently as October last year, and a number of members from the company were able to take part.

There were a few first night snags with sound, lighting, costumes and one of the professional leads, Jeremy Hobbs, having to battle through with a throat infection, but the cast coped well and delivered a rousing finale that had many in the audience on their feet for a standing ovation.

Veteran actor Hobbs plays Georges, master of ceremonies at the controversial St Tropez night club and partner of the floor show's star Albin, a popular transvestite who has helped raise George's son, Jean Michel (George Stuart).

Tony O'Rourke first played Albin in a North Staffs production in 1991, and he proves that age is no object to his exceptional singing and acting skills - not to mention the ability to apply make up while singing A Little More Mascara, donning a wig and emerging as an attractive 'woman'.

And it's a case of spot the gays from the gals as the superbly costumed Les Cagelles stage a high-kicking dance in the night club before the lads whip of their wigs to reveal all.

For the big final scene on opening night Barry Smart, the hospice chaplain, playing Francis, joined Albin for the big number The Best of Times is Now, allowing Hobbs to rest his throat. A fine performance.

Directed by Mike Capri, La Cage runs to 25.02.12

Paul Marston 

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