BWW Review: LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, New Wimbledon Theatre
Literally translated, La Cage aux Folles means "the cage of mad women". This seems an apt description for the characters and audience alike in Martin Connor's latest production. Funny and flirty, hysteria sweeps through the women and men in attendance and no doubt will the country, as the musical tours the UK for the first time.
Welcome to La Cage aux Folles, the hottest nightclub in St Tropez. When the curtain rises, drag queen Zaza is the star of the show. As the curtain falls, he is Albin, faithful husband to the club's owner Georges. But will Albin have to take on a third role, when their son brings home his fiancee and her conservative family? Based on Jean Poiret's play of the same name, La Cage aux Folles makes a timely return to the stage with far-right politics on the rise.
The lavish world of the club is successfully evoked in Gary McCann's design. Giant, gold peacocks adorn either side of the stage, with rich reds running throughout in costume and sets. In Albin's own words: "it's rather gaudy, but it's also rather grand". Harvey Fierstein's book and Jerry Herman's lyrics are packed with witty quotes, and the franglais scene plays particularly well to a British audience.
Some of the biggest laughs of the night are actually unscripted. John Partridge rips into everyone as Zaza; not even the other actors, band or theatre are safe from his quips. It's all in good humour though, and Partridge converses with charisma and confidence. It's a vulnerable and softer approach to the role of Albin, and his take on "I Am What I Am" is quite literally show-stopping.
Partridge's Albin seems to bring out the best in those around him. Adrian Zmed comes to life in their scenes, and Marti Webb almost steals the show as the persistent Jacqueline. In Partridge's group numbers with Les Cagettes, you'll want to go to this fictitious club, so energetic and athletic are they all.
While a fun night out, that's not to say La Cage aux Folles is perfect. The audience interactions are humorous, but a bit prolonged. Georges and Albin's chemistry is undeniable, but by himself Zmed seems less comfortable and even wooden in his delivery. This first number needs tightening in order to do Bill Deamer's exuberant choreography justice.
So some things need a little more work, "a little more mascara". But does it matter if the audience is on their feet, dancing along? "Cause everything's ravishing, sensual and fabulous" in this first UK tour.
Picture credit: Pamela Raith