There are some shows that just make you feel good about life. La Cage Aux Folles is one such show. Setting the stage for more recent hits like Priscilla Queen of the Desert and Kinky Boots, Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein’s award-winning musical is a feel-good extravaganza that looks stunning, sounds fabulous and features a sensational starring performance from John Partridge.
Based in St Tropez, La Cage Aux Folles is the story of nightclub owner Georges (Adrian Zmed) and his partner Albin (John Partridge), the popular star of the club’s drag act. But then Georges’ son Jean-Michele (Dougie Carter) announces his engagement to the daughter of an infamous right wing politician, and hilarious chaos ensues as the couple attempt to tone down their flamboyant lifestyle and “act normal”.
Act 1 in director Martin Connor’s production acts largely as an opportunity to set the scene and show off Albin’s jaw-dropping array of glittering gowns; “it’s like Black Friday at Primark back there,” he confides after yet another lightning-fast costume change. Perhaps inevitably given this frenetic backstage activity, parts of the first act – particularly during the title number – start to feel a bit like they’re only there to fill time while we wait for the next big reveal. Having said that, it does give us plenty of time to admire Gary McCann’s drop dead gorgeous set, and features one of the highlights of the evening as the distraught Albin, having learned he’s to be excluded from the meeting with Jean-Michele’s new in-laws, brings the house and curtain down with a heart-felt performance of I Am What I Am.
This, by the way, was the only song I knew from the show beforehand, but it turns out to be part of a fabulous, catchy score that’s hard to get out of your head, even 24 hours later. Song on the Sand, With You on My Arm and The Best of Times are just a few of the tunes that get the feet tapping and simultaneously pull on the heart-strings.
After the interval, there’s more action and fewer costume changes, so the comedy can begin in earnest as we head towards a somewhat predictable but still heart-warming conclusion; I’m not ashamed to admit I welled up at one point, and spontaneously cheered at another. As light-hearted as the show is, it still has an important message about accepting others and ourselves, and Dindon the homophobic politician (Paul F. Monaghan) unfortunately feels just as real in 2017 as he was when the musical was written in the 1980s.
As Albin, John Partridge is exquisite – and not just in appearance, though he does look amazing in every outfit he puts on. Vocally, emotionally, comically, he pitches his performance exactly right, and his relationship with Adrian Zmed as Georges is both believable and touching. But while, much like his character, Partridge is undoubtedly the star of the show, the rest of the cast are by no means in his shadow. Zmed is easily likeable and a natural comedian, Marti Webb (literally) steals the limelight during her all too rare appearances as restaurant owner Jacqueline, and Samson Ajewole is particularly fun as the sassy maid/butler Jacob.
La Cage Aux Folles may not be one of the best known musicals for British audiences, but that deserves to change. A treat for the eyes, ears and heart, this dazzling production of a hugely entertaining and uplifting show is well worth a visit. If it doesn’t brighten your day, then I really don’t know what will.
La Cage Aux Folles is at the Orchard Theatre until 13th May.