Based on the 1973 Jean Poiret play of the same name the musical version of La Cage aux Folles has long been one of the glitziest of musicals to grace our stages since its American premiere back in 1983. With just a few revisits in this country following its 1986 London opening it is astonishing that it has never toured. The master of UK touring Bill Kenwright is the man to finally bring it out on the road after all these years and he has done so with all the glamour and Joie de Vivre it deserves.
If you peel away some of the gloss there is the recipe for real heartfelt drama just beneath the surface with an examination of love and its challenges as well as acceptance around sexuality and individuality. Harvey Fierstein’s book never really challenges any of these possibilities and instead rides along with Jerry Herman’s sumptuous music and lyrics with nothing but sequined and dazzling glamour.
Young Jean-Michele wants to bring his new fiancée home to meet his parents and introduce them to his prospective but very conservative in-laws. His parents though are St Tropez nightclub owner George and his star turn drag queen and long term partner Albin. In trying to hide the true identity of Albin there is plenty of comedy to be had but more importantly there is the upset that this man has raised Jean-Michele as his own for 20 years and is now being asked to hide his true identity to please the right wing politician Father who is also hell bent on closing the nightclubs of St Tropez.
Any production of La Cage rests firmly on its Albin and more importantly on his drag alter ego Za Za. In the main John Partridge does a rather fabulous job and positively drips glamour. The fine line to a perfect Albin though is keeping the drag queen in him tamed enough to allow that wonderfully maternal side out that has spent so many years raising and nurturing Jean-Michele. It is here that Partridge is less convincing. In his somewhat savage approach to Za Za Partridge is sadly more of the Lily Savage style drag queen than the wholly ladylike Danny La Rue style emale impersonator that is more believably family orientated. His slightly self-indulgent attacks on the audience immediately create barriers to likability. That being said Partridge has moments of real emotion and belts out his numbers with great power, and is particularly moving when singing the shows rousing anthem to acceptance ‘I am what I am’.
Adrian Zmed is George and rightly plays down the camp as he tries to keep all of his loved ones happy at once. Zmed is understated and proves himself a perfectly acceptable George without ever really hogging the limelight. Despite his strong voice he doesn’t always look comfortable onstage but manages to convince nonetheless.
Support is strong throughout with likeable performances from Dougie Carter as Jean-Michele and Alexandra Robinson as Anne. Samson Ajewole ramps up the camp with his ridiculously raucous Jacob the maid with legs that most women would sell their Grandmother for! There is also an oddly underused Marti Webb as local restaurateur Jacqueline that provides an element of gravitas to the ensemble.
Alongside Partridges flamboyant Albin though it is the remaining ensemble that makes up the Cagelles that really steal the show. Dripping in sequins and ostrich feathers and with legs to die for and heel defying dance moves these guys are what La Cage Aux Folles is really about. Who cares about the message when we have this level of glamour to gawk at. These really are the best of times!