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A CurtainUp London London Review
La Cage aux Folles

So many old friends, so many new faces, so many old friends with new faces!— Georges
La Cage aux Folles
The Cagelles
(Photo: Alastair Muir)
Nowadays La Cage aux Folles and its signature song "I Am What I Am" has become a gay anthem. This production which has transferred from the tiny Menier Chocolate Factory to Northumberland Avenue's The Playhouse has a ready made audience, happy to relive those AIDS anxious days of the 1980s when this musical outed "the love that dare not speak its name" and manifested gay pride. We are told that the production's musical director carried around with him for several years a piece of paper with the lyrics to "I Am What I am".

This show revolves around Douglas Hodge's magnificent performance as Albin who nightly appears in the club as the drag artiste ZsaZsa. Albin lives with the nightclub owner and straight gay guy Georges (Denis Lawson) and together they have brought up Jean-Michel (Stuart Neal), Georges' son (after a brief heterosexual encounter with a female nightclub singer). The story pivots on Albin's rejection by Jean-Michel when the young man plans to bring home the parents of his fiancée Anne (Alicia Davies), his future in-laws: a right wing politician (Iain Mitchell) and his uptight wife (Paula Wilcox). Hodge switches between the matronly voice of Hyacinth Bucket and his own deeply masculine register to good comic effect. One of the best scenes is when Albin is being groomed for his role in the pretence of Jean-Michel's heterosexual uncle and is completely unable to carry off the body language of a non camp person. In his songs Hodge as ZsaZsa touches on imitations of both Dietrich and Piaf but his singing voice is not the principle reason for seeing La Cage aux Folles.

Denis Lawson, whose singing voice is very pleasant, too provides excellent support in a part which has to inevitably play second fiddle to the histrionics of Albin with his hands to his face quivering and eyelashes fluttering nineteen to the dozen. Albin is grizzling about not being able to play Salomé and we hear that "There comes a time in everyone's life when one can no longer risk dropping the last veil!" Georges explains to Albin why his own presence with the terrible in-laws-to-be is ok but Albin's isn't, by saying, "My mannerisms can translate as tasteful affectation whilst yours are suspicious!" The answer seems to be for Albin to be passed off as a drunk, as Georges explains, "In the minds of the masses a lush is more acceptable than a fruit!" In the event Albin gets to play his authentic feminine role and Jean-Michel sees the error of his ways in rejecting his maternal role model. Jason Pennycooke has a thoroughly silly role as the French maid Jacob who wants to star in the nightclub show as Jacobina. Stuart Neal is rather withdrawn as Jean-Michel, maybe those awful checked flared trousers cramp his style? But he sings sweetly.

The tall drag queens, the Cagelles, who provide the Folles chorus are statuesque and impressive and give us the atmosphere of a nightclub and when they dance in the bird cage they are otherworldly and birdlike. I also enjoyed their surrounding the evil politician in a sinister darkly lit moment of danger and retribution. What I didn't get from La Cage aux Folles was any sense of the Frenchness of the piece or the St Tropez setting. There has been some attempt to recreate the intimacy of the Menier's production by siting a few tables at the front of the stalls but these token seats don't really recreate the nightclub atmosphere, except for the few but the Playhouse isn't a vast space so Terry Johnson's production still works on a small scale. The stage curtain is pink and ruched like those swathed blinds the indelicate call tart's bloomers and there are spangles and feathers and boas and lovely stage costumes.

La Cage aux Folles wouldn't be on my top ten list of musicals of all time but it has a following which may mean the Pink Pound will save it from the worst effects of the Credit Crunch.

La Cage aux Folles
Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman
Book by Harvey Fierstein
Based on the play by Jean Poiret
Directed by Terry Johnson

Starring: Douglas Hodge, Denis Lawson, Jason Pennycooke, Stuart Neil
With: Iain Mitchell, Adrian Der Gregorian, Alicia Davies, Paula Wilcox, Tracie Bennett, Zoë Ann Brown, Ben Deery, Leanne Harwood, Robert Maskell, Duncan Smith, Ben Bunce, Darren Carnall, Nicholas Cunningham, Nolan Frederick, Matt Krzan, Gary Murphy, Dane Quixall, Scott Spreadbury
Set Design: Tim Shortall
Costume Design: Matthew Wright
Choreographer: Lynne Page
Musical Supervisor and Orchestrations: Jason Carr
Musical Director: Nigel Lilley
Lighting: Nick Richings
Sound: Gareth Owen
Running time: Two hours 45 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0870 060 6631
Booking to 8th March 2009
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 31st October 2008 at The Playhouse Northumberland Avenue London SW1 (Rail/Tube: Charing Cross)
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