“ On stage at the Playhouse Theatre, An Ambassador Theatre Group Theatre, Northumberland Avenue, London, WC2N 5DE, England „
I has wanted to see this musical since seeing the film adaptation 'The Birdcage'. Although the film isn't a musical it was very amusing, and I thought this would appeal. However, there is a lot of competition for your money in the West End these days, so with a list of shows I wanted to see as long as my arm, what did I go and see next? Well the choice was made for me as the tickets were a much appreciated gift, but the show had managed to move up my 'Must See' list by the inclusion of one Mr Graham Norton to the cast list for a limited run. Yes, that one. Can a TV presenter cut it as a musical theatre star in the West End? This was one thing I wanted to find out! The show opened in 2008, and has been nominated for several Olivier awards and now is in the West End with a new cast. The show originally opened on Broadway in 1983, and had been performed at the London Palladium in the 80s, this is the first return of the full production to the West End since then, in the much smaller setting of the Playhouse with a seating capacity of a third of the Palladium's, but a far more intimate setting.
The show is set in St Tropez at La Cage Aux Folles cabaret drag club. Georges, (Steven Pacey) the compere and owner, lives with Albin (Norton), his partner of 20 years who headlines at the club as Zsa Zsa. They live above the club with camp butler/maid Jacob (Olivier nominee Jason Pennycooke). Georges has a son, Jean-Michel, the product of a fling he had with a dancer at the Lido in Paris. He has brought his son up with Albin's help. As the first of the night's cabaret shows begin we see Georges coping with Albin's dramas, and Albin preparing to take the stage with his make up and applying false eyelashes in an impressive time without getting them stuck anywhere else! Georges' son returns from a trip and announces to his dad that he is getting married, the one problem with this is that his bride-to-be is the daughter of a moralistic, conservative politician who will not take kindly to the lifestyle of Jean-Michel's family. They are coming to St Tropez to meet his family. He asks his dad if his real mum could help him out, and if Albin could not be there. Albin is, of course, devastated; but a compromise is reached as Albin agrees to become straight 'Uncle Al' for Jean-Michel. Can Albin 'do' straight and can they pull it off and convince this politician that they are a conventional family?
The musical is both moving and funny. There are some beautiful, romantic songs such as "With You on my Arm" and "Song on The Sand" along with the infamous transvestite anthem "I am What I Am", which is sung by Graham in the show. If you have heard Shirley Bassey or Gloria Gaynor cover it you would be excused for thinking it is an upbeat number that is belted out, but in fact is a ballad, performed understatedly by Norton at a poignant moment in the show (yes, I did use 'understated' and 'Norton' in the same sentence!). The performances are first class, and I would be thrilled to catch Norton, Pacey or Pennycooke in any other stage show. Norton can sing and act, his comic timing is spot on (as you would expect) and he can pull off the big notes. His voices blends well with Pacey's during their duets, and in no way is his outsung. The musical and backstage scenes are often very camp, but it is all in good fun. Neither the play nor the language is crude, although there are a few subtle innuendos in there. The small band (there is no space for an orchestra) are on balconies on the stage, and some people can sit at tables at the front, adding to the cabaret atmosphere. For a small theatre the set has been designed very well, and the costumes look great with just the right mix of sequins and feathers!
If you are a fan of musicals and all things high camp then definitely check this out. Really though, stripping it down, it is actually just a funny, moving, poignant show with some lovely songs. The only difference really is that the lead characters are a homosexual couple, this gives the show something different from the formulaic musicals based on films that are currently playing in London, as well as your Lloyd Webber's. There are positive messages about love and family within the show and I wholeheartedly recommend it.
The show is on at the Playhouse theatre by the Millennium Bridge. Ticket prices vary depending on your seat, cabaret tables are about £58 and limited, we sat in the dress circle in £39.50 seats, Upper circle are £29.50 and restricted view seats are £17.50. Sometimes there are deals out there on the web or at the 'Tkts' booth in London's Leicester Square.
La Cage aux Folles is a timeless and deliciously funny tale of family values, unconditional love, and above all, the need to be proud of who we are.