At its debut in 1983 La Cage aux Folles was already ahead of its time, opening to criticism and claims that the musical - centred around a love story involving 2 male protagonists - was an attempt to mainstream homosexuality.
Back and revamped for the national tour, the story remains just as relevant over thirty years on. The lavish production currently making it’s way around the country is an unapologetic exploration of human relationships irrespective of sexual preference, and continues to highlight the importance of acceptance and inclusion of the gay and trans community.
Set on the French Riviera, the show is immersive from the outset, and opens with nightclub owner Georges (Adrian Zmed) and the introduction of his sensational chorus line Les Cagelles, who deliver relentless and high-energy choreography throughout – no mean feat, in 4 inch heels and sky-scraper headdresses. The jewel of La Cage’s crown is the inimitable Zsa Zsa (John Partridge) a.k.a Albin, Georges’ high-maintenance but devoted wife and surrogate co-parent to Georges’ 24 year old son, Jean-Michele (Dougie Carter). With a surprise engagement announcement, Jean-Michele throws the couple’s life into chaos, owing to his betrothed being the daughter of career politician Edouard Dindon (Paul Monaghan). As Deputy General of the Tradition, Family and Morality Party he publically pledged to eradicate drag and cabaret clubs, and association with Jean-Michele’s family could pose a problem.
What follows is a hilarious tale of deception, reconciliation and a family’s love as Georges and Albin try to hide their relationship and identities from Dindon.
For a small company, the ensemble create a big impression, headed by Zmed who confidently delivers strong vocals and endearing character. Similarly, John Partidge is nothing short of magnificent as both leading man and leading lady. With exuberance and grace he embodies Zsa Zsa and her over-the-top eccentricities, but as Albin he displays tenderness, vulnerability and humility. Pride anthem and Act 1 finale I Am What I Am was spellbinding and had the audience on their feet and rightly so, as his stage persona crumbled and for the first time emotion took hold.
Criticism has been made in earlier reviews of Partridge’s cheeky over-egged scripted ‘ad-lib’ section in the preceding scene, but if anything it just served to show the split in personality between showgirl Zsa Zsa and Albin. Similar comment has been passed on the noticeable age-gap between the leading men, but with Zmed’s unique old-hollywood style charm it’s easy to see why a younger budding starlet might fall hard, and vice versa. Their relationship was played out with beautiful familiarity - as long-time lovers should - and was a joy to watch.
Of merit too, were Monaghan’s Dindon as the chauvinistic villain, and Marti Webb’s wonderfully grandiose local restauranteur, Jacqueline.
The bones of the production were brought to life by a rousing band and a sumptuous set, transforming between the lavish setting of the night club and Georges and Albin’s apartment in its varying state of décor – a credit to musicians, designers and production staff alike.
So throw off your inhibitions, grab a feather boa and head over to the Birmingham Hippodrome to enjoy this hilarious and fabulously fun tour de force of a production, playing until Saturday – La Cage aux Folles will not disappoint!
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