Since my major local theatre had a bit of a facelift and have moved the wheelchair spaces forward thus offering a better view, I’ve been more inclined to see more shows here at home over recent months, and even better if they tie in with my resolution to see more musicals (and indeed plays) that are new to me. That in mind, this past Friday I could be found in my favourite space for my wheels in the row at the Hippodrome, to see the UK tour of the six time Tony Award winner: La Cage Aux Folles.
Based on the 1973 French play of the same name by Jean Poiret, the musical features a book by Harvey Fierstein and music and lyrics by Jerry Herman. Set in Saint Tropez, we follow Georges, an openly gay nightclub owner and his relationship with his partner Albin, who is also La Cage’s star, in the form of drag artist superstar Zaza. Georges’ son Jean – Michel is getting married, and wants to bring his fiancée Anne to meet the parents. The only problem? Anne’s parents are ultra conservative.
At the heart of this show is a story about love, family and acceptance. Having only been vaguely familiar with some of Jerry Herman’s melodies and lyrics, I loved hearing these in context and it struck a chord with me how simple yet profound and evocative his lyrics are, The Best of Times and With You on My Arm featuring some of my favourites. Director Martin Connor captured this balance of tone in the piece for me perfectly: one minute I’d be laughing, the next I’d be choked up and emotional, but always, always a smile was never far from my lips. I felt emotionally invested in every single scene and character. This is probably best summed up by Georges, who, close to the end of the show, says: “If we have done our jobs correctly, you will leave with more than a folded programme and a torn ticket stub”, and in my case, Georges was right: I left feeling that special sense of pure joy that only theatre gives me, especially when they get me to think about life and what’s important just like this show did!
If you’re going to touch on these pretty profound universal themes, there’s no harm in doing it hand in hand with a little bit of glitz and glamour. Gary McCann’s sets are charming and really help evoke the atmosphere; there’s colour everywhere, his costumes and Richard Mawbey’s Wigs and Makeup are wonderful, I lost count of the times I felt a serious case of “wardrobe envy” with Zaza, and it’s almost unfair how effortless the Cagelles made dancing in high heels. Bill Deamer’s choreography was playful and fun and performed with infectious energy and enthusiasm which kept the action moving along well. The jokes come thick and fast, and admittedly at times the humour is a little obvious, but that’s part the fun, and in this cast’s hands it works utterly.
Heading the cast is John Partridge as Albin/Zaza. As a fan of John’s who doesn’t get to see and support him as often as I would like in my circumstances, it always means a lot to me when I am able to go and watch him work. This production is the third musical I have seen him in, but I can say with total, utter sincerity that this has been his best to date. His comic timing is razor sharp and he radiates charisma in both of his guises. I enjoy an actor’s portrayal all the more when I feel like they are enjoying the role and I got that in spades from him. His quieter, more serious moments are also a pleasure to watch, and moved me profoundly. I’ve always adored his singing voice since he first came into my life through Cats, but after hearing him sing this score, my appreciation has skyrocketed to new levels; to choose perhaps the obvious moment,I remember cheering myself hoarse and clapped my hands till they were sore after I Am What I Am and think it’s by far and away the best rendition of that song I’ve ever heard. And of course, he looks absolutely divine in Zaza’s gowns and makeup.
John is joined by Adrian Zmed as Georges, who charmed me completely. He brings warmth and an easy likeability to Georges, and he and John share a wonderfully heartwarming and amusing chemistry, and played off each other incredibly. Their duet With You on My Arm was another highlight of the night for me, and I enjoyed every minute they were on stage, together and apart.
Dougie Carter and Alexandra Robinson were another wonderful paring, I hope I get to see more of them both in my future stagey shenanigans. Jean Michel goes through an interesting character arc throughout the show and its great watching Dougie play this out: there’s the boyish swagger, pride, akwardness of young love and everything in between, not to mention an impressive voice to match, complimented beautifully by Alexandra, who brought an endearing grace to Anne.
Theatre royalty Marti Webb shone as Jacqueline, her humour and presence a force to be reckoned with. A massive special mention must go to Samson Ajewole, who played an absolute blinder as Albin’s and Georges maid, Jacob. He made me cry with laughter and I think if he doesn’t soon find himself at the Adelphi donning a pair of Kinky Boots, the theatrical world will be missing a trick!
Special mention too, to Angelique (Richard Levey), Bitelle (Matthew Ives), Chantel (Louie- George Daniels), Hannah (Jordan Livesey), Mercedes (Oliver Proudlock-John) Phaedra (Brian O’ Muiri) and Rochelle (Luke Byrne), otherwise known as the Cagelles. They were all gorgeous and glorious, and I loved watching them. Again, wardrobe envy and fabulous leg envy abounded!
I left the theatre feeling totally uplifted and regretted the entire evening that I had not bought another ticket whilst it was here. I’m working on going to Brighton to see it again as a treat for my birthday this summer, it’s a total joy from start to end and I hope my plans prove fruitful 😉