Theatre Review - La Cage aux Folles

In the United States, several politicians have attempted to restrict drag shows as part of a wider backlash against LGTBQ+. Earlier this year Tennessee passed a bill effectively banning “adult cabaret performances” in public or in the presence of children.

So Tim Sheader’s revival of this iconic musical, book by Harvey Fierstein, music and lyrics by Jerry Herman, based on the landmark 1973 play by Jean Poiret, couldn’t be more apposite.

Georges (Billy Carter) is the middle-aged owner of the La Cage aux Folles, a St Tropez nightclub. His long term partner Albin (Carl Mullaney), a drag artist known as Zaza, is its star performer.

When Jean-Michel (Ben Culleton), Georges’ biological son, announces he wants to marry Anne (Sophie Pourret), they are faced with a terrible choice. Anne’s father, Edward Dindon (played by Craig Armstrong on the night I went), is an ultra-conservative, anti-gay politician who wants to meet his future son-in-law’s family.

Albin has raised Jean-Michel as his own so is hurt to discover that he expects Albin to absent himself from their home the night of a proposed dinner so he can pretend he has a “traditional” family. Undeterred, Albin prepares for his greatest role as Jean-Michel’s mother in a Margaret Thatcher style wig and demure skirt suit.

Interwoven with the farce are plenty of show-stopping numbers courtesy of the club’s resident dancers, The Cagelles. Memorable anthems include ‘I Am What I Am’ and ‘The Best of Times’. Shakeel Kimotho gives a stellar turn as Jacob, the hired help who effortlessly transforms from maid into bell boy.

A terrific ensemble and live band together with Stephen Mear’s exuberant choreography, vibrant costumes and makeup from Ryan Dawson Laight and Guy Common respectively, and Howard Hudson’s evocative lighting ensure a rapturous reception for Sheader’s swansong at the Open Air Theatre.

To September 16

Orignally published by Camden New Journal