REVIEW: La Cage Aux Folles

A lavish revisit to a classic musical

By Dean Arcuri

I knew La Cage aux Folles as the show on which The Birdcage was based: a gay couple are shocked when their son announces his pending engagement into a politically traditional family, and a hilarious dinner party filled with mistaken identity, muffled flamboyance and an abundance of cross-dressing ensues. Quirky Productions’ latest approach to the famous musical at the National Theatre had a cast and production team that do not disappoint in presenting a fantastic show.

I particularly tip my hat to the production’s stunning costumes (Isaac Lumins), wigs (David Wisken), lighting (Brad Alcock) and set design that really transformed the space from Parisian streets and a Mediterranean home to the La Cage stage. The simple flamboyance succeeded in elevating the comedy without overshadowing the campness.  In particular, working with depth on the stage of the La Cage allowed the lighting and costumes to really augment the performances.

John O’May’s portrayal of George was a perfect juxtaposition to David Rogers-Smith’s Albin/Zaza, with both deserved the standing ovation they received.  O’May’s voice is hauntingly beautiful, and he played out the emotion in the character with a powerful calm, allowing me to understand, empathise and still be entertained with what is honestly a pretty insensitive plot device used to channel the story along.  Meanwhile Roger-Smith embraced every moment in the spotlight, while never letting us forget the man behind the makeup. His performance of the classic I Am What I Am that closes the first act was filled with raw passion and vocal power, leaving the hairs on the back of my neck to only subside sometime during Act Two.

Juggling camp comedy and emotional empathy is never easy, but both the leads portrayed the passion of their characters and their tender relationship with such strength that it carries their “straight man” son (Reece Budim) whose singing voice certainly counteracted his character’s two-dimensional paternal relationship. Unfortunately the variety of accents of the lower-tier leads distracted from their performances, really leaving these stronger characters to take centre stage.

Special mention must be made of  the ‘ladies’ or Les Cagelles, who really kept us entertained throughout with their energy, passion and ability to move. From the opening the show we soon saw there was more than meets the eye: not just because of what was “tucked away” but because even in visual uniformity their individual performances shone out. It’s a shame their scenes were drowned out by the orchestra leaving great character moments and punch lines by the wayside.  Still, their dance numbers had us transfixed, and applauding along with an abundance of energy and exuberance.

Minor issues aside, the entire musical was thoroughly entertaining, powerful and beautifully performed. If you missed this one, be sure to keep an eye out for Quirky Productions’ future shows.

La Cage aux Folles was performed at The National Theatre from March 16 – 24, 2012

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