Image by Pamela Raith
LA CAGE AUX FOLLES
The Lowry, Salford Quays
Until Saturday 17th June, 2017.
It is almost 35-years since Jerry Herman’s musical adaptation of Jean Poiret’s celebrated French farce first took Broadway by storm, receiving a total of nine Tony Award nominations, winning six (including Best Musical) and running for well over four years, with a liberated Herman vowing never to write another Broadway show following its success.
Countless Broadway, West End and international revivals later, La Cage Aux Folles is back, but as bold and poignant as it can at times be, Martin Connor’s problematic new production doesn’t always hit the mark.
Set in the idyllic, sun-kissed setting of St Tropez, La Cage Aux Folles takes audiences behind the curtains of the eponymous drag nightclub for an exclusive look at the extravagant, though mostly disorderly events that erupt within. At the show’s heart are club manager, Georges, and his partner Albin (aka ‘Zaza’), the club’s towering star attraction. When Georges’ young son Jean-Michel announces his engagement to the daughter of notorious right-wing politician, Monsieur Dindon – a man determined to clamp down on homosexuality – chaos ensues as the two sets of parents are hilariously forced to meet.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Harvey Fierstein’s gag-laden book is filled to the brim with wit and sarcasm, though it’s the pathos and compassion he weaves throughout that gives true depth and dimension to what is ultimately a powerful examination of equality of identity.
Framed by designer Gary McCann’s sumptuous Fin de siècle inspired proscenium arch design, and featuring a wealth of lavish costumes, La Cage Aux Folles is as much a feast for the eyes as it is for the ears, though for all its glitz and glamour, Connor’s staging tends to play up the comedic elements a little too forcefully, and often feels as if it is merely going through the motions. Though many months into its nationwide tour, the production still feels static and lacking in pace, with microphone dropouts and missed vocal cues further adding to the issues.
In the show-stealing central role of Albin, John Partridge is superb when he unleashes the full power of his vocal range, and does a good job with some of the more tender moments, though much of his spoken dialogue is unfortunately gabbled and thrown away, with his Jane Horrocks-style Lancashire accent feeling largely out of place. You would be forgiven for thinking the action had shifted from St. Tropez to Emmerdale from time to time. There are some unusual choices in his characterisation, but perhaps most effective is his ability to strip away the exterior and prove that the costumes and makeup are simply an artificial front, behind which hides a gentle and fragile human being who just wants to be loved.
Adrian Zmed is a charismatic Georges with a warm baritone that brings to mind the likes of Gene Barry (Original Broadway Georges) and Robert Goulet (2004 Broadway Revival Georges), though for all his charm and confidence, he appears nervy when required to dance, and has a habit of looking down at the floor. That said, his chemistry with both Albin and Jean Michel is strong, and he proves a very effective “straight man” (forgive the pun) to Albin’s larger-than-life stooge.
In the supporting cast, there are standouts from Marti Webb as Jacqueline, Dougie Carter as Jean-Michele and Paul F Monaghan as Monsieur Dindon. The infamous Les Cagelles revel in their respective roles, though Bill Deamer’s rather basic choreography soon begins to feel repetitive.
Musical director Tim Whiting and his orchestra do sterling work with Herman’s joyous score, with the likes of The Best of Times, Song on the Sand and the haunting I Am What I Am sounding as dynamic and stirring as ever.
Running Time: 2 hours and 55-minutes (approx.), including one 20-minute interval.
Final Performance at The Lowry: Saturday 17th June, 2017.
For more information, and to book tickets, please Click Here.