LA CAGE AUX FOLLES
Birmingham Hippodrome, Tuesday 16th May, 2017
This touring production could not be timelier. With anti-gay sentiments (aka idiocy) on the rise globally, the show reminds us that people are people and love is love.
In St Tropez, a nightclub has gained notoriety for its drag queens, foremost among whom is the delectable Zaza, or Albin when he’s at home, partner to the club’s owner, Georges. When Georges’s son, Jean-Michele announces his engagement to the daughter of bigot-in-chief Dindon, an old-school politician, Albin finds himself edged out of the picture – and he’s not the kind to go sit in the corner…
It’s a conventional musical about alternative lifestyles, with its heart on its sleeve and its message loud, proud and clear.
John Partridge is in his element as Albin/Zaza, capturing the character’s brittleness as well as the camp mannerisms, and boy, can he hold a note! It takes a while for Albin’s warmth to come out but when it does, it is beautifully understated in the show’s most touching moments. Partridge’s Albin is a Northerner, coming across not so much as French Riviera as Canal Street, Manchester. Adrian Zmed is more grounded as the charming Georges, while Dougie Carter sings like a dream as Jean-Michele – clearly a young man with a glittering future ahead. Samson Ajewole is a scream as Jacob the flamboyant housemaid, showing us that families come in all sorts of configurations. Alexandra Robinson is sweet as fiancée Anne, just as Paul F Monaghan is blustering as bigot-to-be-pilloried Dindon. At his side, Su Douglas is Madame Renaud, with a couple of surprises of her own.
The extra-special treat of the night is Marti Webb as restaurant owner Jacqueline. She’s still got it, that clear, strong voice, that poise, that presence. Marvellous.
Harvey Fierstein’s book is funny and moving. Jerry Herman’s score contains some iconic numbers (I Am What I Am, The Best of Times, Look Over There…) and the lyrics are witty and poignant.
A troupe of chorines fills out the musical numbers with more feathers than an ostrich sanctuary and more sequins than ten years of Strictly Come Dancing. La Cage may offer colourful escapism but in truth it tells us that there are more ways of living in the real world than conservatives and prigs would have us believe. This could well be one of the most important musicals ever written, especially since there are people and movements around who think we gays are somehow less than human.