Sometimes a show ticks all the boxes and is greeted with unqualified approval by an audience, writes John Shawcroft.
La Cage Aux Folles is such an offering and a full house at Tuesday’s press night was pretty unanimous in nominating it as one of the best evening’s entertainment seen at the Theatre Royal in many a long day.
Derived from a French farce, it centres on the idyllic lifestyle of Georges, owner and emcee of an infamous St Tropez nightclub, La Cage Aux Folles, which features drag entertainment. Georges’ gay partner Albin has been topping the bill for years as Zaza, a transvestite cabaret artist.
Albin has also acted as ‘mother’ to Georges’ son, 24-year-old Jean-Michel, the product of a youthful liaison before he met Albin. All is going well until Jean-Michel announces that he wants to marry Anne (Alexandra Robinson), the daughter of a notorious right-wing politician.
The parents have to meet – and Jean-Michel’s unconventional family life is hardly likely to impress the conservative, potential father-of-the bride.
There’s a need to keep this under wraps, so to speak, and Albin is faced with the role of his career in an attempt to hide this lifestyle so that Jean-Michel’s dream can come true.
Amidst the chaos and hilarity, changes and considerable sacrifices must be made at the feet of convention and here you can spot the elements of farce from the show’s origins. While issues concerning gender, gay rights and intolerance are close to the surface the show never loses sight of its timeless story of love and sheer fun.
It succeeds on several fronts. First, there is a superb score by Jerry Herman, songs which soon become toe-tapping and familiar, some of them evoking the tuneful melodies of the great Hollywood musicals.
Secondly, the production has two strong characters and John Partridge (Albin) and Adrian Zmed (Georges) are quite superb in these roles.
John Partridge is no stranger to the West End or, indeed Nottingham where his Billy Flynn in Chicago on a previous visit won acclaim. But as Albin, complete with all the cross-dressing, wigs and feather boas, he is supreme. Acting and comedy skills and an excellent singing voice merge into a devastating show-within-a-show when, as Zaza he involves the audience in some repartee before launching into the title song.
His pain when he is told that there is no place for him in the meeting of parents is profound, leading to a splendid performance of the showstopper I Am What I Am, which closes the first act.
Equally accomplished, although in an entirely different role, is Adrian Zmed, a star of stage, film and television in the US but performing for the first time in the UK.
Greeting his audience with ‘hey up, miduck’ is hardly French Riviera but it was a nice touch which helped set the scene for a fun evening.
Dougie Carter as Jean-Michel also does, particularly with the song With Anne On My Arm and there’s a very funny role for Samson Ajewole’s outrageous Jacob. They have strong support. Marti Webb is another with a strong background in the West End and it shows in her performance as restaurant owner Jacqueline.
There must be a mention, too, for Les Cagelles, the seven-strong dance troupe, all male in drag but getting the show off to a sparkling start.
The scenes flit nightly between club, apartment, shops and a promenade and Chez Jacqueline and the entire evening is a triumph.
La Cage Aux Folles is at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham, until Saturday.
Photo by Pamela Raith