Saturday 3rd June, 2017 at the Grand Opera House, York.
La Cage Aux Folles is the work of creators Arthur Laurents, Harvey Fierstein and Jerry Herman and this production of the long-standing classic is directed by Martin Connor – the show has enjoyed huge success since the 1980s and I hope to see more reincarnations of it in the future. It’s a vibrant show full of sassy numbers, plenty of laughs and a pinch of sentimentality; a camp affair which embraces the clichès with as much zest as it offers alternative perspectives. It boasts a stand out lead in John Partridge, who lights a fire under any scene he walks into and it also boasts a brilliant chorus line of drag artists. Telling the story of a gay couple who run a Drag nightclub and have to deal with the hideous potential in-laws of their newly infatuated (heterosexual) son, the show seems ever relevant and highlights social issues with wit and outlandish characters. We watch the family dynamic through a haze of the cast strutting their stuff in classic feathered costumes of times gone by amidst a 40s Saint-Tropez set.
While for me La Cage at times falls short when it comes to dramatic, sentimental scenes (Partridge’s performance aside), it certainly excels in the show-biz scenes; the chorus are superb and they are used very cannily to liven up some of the more static domestic scenes. The chorus never miss a beat, they ooze West End perfection and wear their (many) costumes as if each were made of diamonds. It’s joyous viewing as they tap, shimmy and Bob Fosse their way through the musical numbers and although the drag and production aesthetic (Gary McCann) are dated, much like with Evita, such things only serve to put this musical firmly in the region of much loved classics which don’t lose their charm and continue to resonate with each new generation.I’ve seen a small few examples of an actor completely stealing a show and running around the block with it a few times over, and watching John Partridge ignite the stage in La Cage Aux Folles was one of those few. Having only seen him in Eastenders years ago, I was knocked for six by his performance as Albin; his immense stage presence, brilliant comic timing and his glorious Bassey belt make him shine the brightest even when he isn’t donning the most sequins on stage. His is a voice of extreme power and it sure packs a punch in the show-stopping performance of I Am What I Am which is the highlight of the show for me. I loved his comical handling of being trained up as the butch uncle and his melodramatic responses to domestic frictions – his patter with the audience and orchestra also spotlit his star quality beautifully. Samson Ajewole, who plays Jacob, the maid/butler with dreams of the stage, is another example of stellar casting in this show. He steals scenes like he’s done it in his sleep for years and he is thoroughly hilarious. While the whole chorus (Richard Leavey, Matthew Ives, Louis-George Daniels, Brian Ò’Muirí, Luke Byrne, Oliver Proudlock-John) are worthy of high praise, Jordan Livesey, playing the whip wielding, take-no-prisoners Hannah, is of particular note – he demands attention in group numbers as well as raising laughs in all the right places. Marti Webb, playing Jacqueline, provides solid gold stage presence and elevates some of the key scenes – and she makes a fantastic duet partner for Partridge in the beautiful yet comical rendition of The Best of Times.
Although Adrian Zmed (Georges) and Dougie Carter (Jean Michele) do pleasantly make their way through their scenes and numbers, those scenes feel very lack lustre when placed between such energised scenes from the club – with a little more movement and attention, those scenes could work very nicely to build up the backstory of the characters with credibility, but unfortunately they currently feel under-whelming and I found my attention waning. I can’t quite put my finger on it and it may well be the writing itself, but the disparity between the energy whenever Albin and co were on stage compared with when they weren’t was glaringly obvious. Likewise, it has to be said that some of the songs felt throwaway and unmemorable while others were hitting all the right spots for comedy and drama; I didn’t feel the sentimentality of Look Over There but I Am What I Am and Masculinity were truly wonderful to watch. The show is a bit of a mixed bag in some respects but there’s certainly an awful lot to love too!
John Partridge is by far the best thing about this Kenwright production but he doesn’t stand alone in my reasons for recommending La Cage; he is supported by some wonderful songs and a killer set of queens – I’d go again tomorrow just for them, but I’d go again and again to see Partridge knock it way, way out of the park with his powerful rendition of I Am What I Am (it’s his Dreamgirls-esque And I Am Telling You, if you’re looking for a point of reference!) If you like a good old razzle dazzle musical with plenty of strutting, posing, feathers and glitter, get yourself to La Cage – it tours until August and you can get your tickets here.