A little more mascara
By Ross Larkin
La Cage Au Folles began as a play in the 70’s by Jean Poiret until it was later remodelled into a musical by Jerry Herman. In 1996, Hollywood created the well-known film version, renaming it The Birdcage. Melbourne’s The Production Company last night opened their version of the musical at The Arts Centre, with Todd McKenney and Simon Burke as gay lovers Albin and Georges and a familiar supporting cast including Rhonda Burchmore, Gary Sweet and Marg Downey.
When Georges’ son Jean-Michel (Robert Tripolino) announces his engagement to Anne (Emily Milledge), matters accelerate to hysterical at the prospect of his fiance’s highly conservative and political parents (Sweet and Downey) coming over to meet Jean-Michel’s family.
Decidedly flamboyant transvestite Albin is deemed by Jean-Michel too risky and controversial to meet Anne’s parents and is advised to make himself scarce for the evening. When Jean-Michel’s birth mother fails to show, Albin steps in in all his convincing drag glory under the pretence of being mother himself, and hilarity ensues.
As with any famous and celebrated show, there are unavoidable audience expectations. In the case of La Cage Au Folles, it is safe to assume that giant laughs, flashy songs, spectacular dancing and tremendous energy are all somewhat anticipated.
Regretfully, The Production Company only gently hit the mark, waxing and waning in pace and stamina. The occasional musical number is quite impressive while too many others are underwhelming and forgettable.
The two leads are undoubtedly well performed, with McKenney in particular delivering much of the needed laughs and glamour, and Aljin Abella as the butler a consistent source of humour and force.
However, director Dean Bryant’s decision to merge La Cage Au Folles into pantomime territory with actors speaking to and interacting with the audience for extended periods (presumably to cover costume changes) was an ill-fated one, breaking from the struggling momentum even further.
Sweet as Anne’s father might have looked the part but was typically miscast, yelling every line with farcical irritation and further contributing to the pantomime domain. Downey and Burchmore were reliably enjoyable but sadly appeared all too briefly.
Essentially, Bryant and The Production Company have found most of the ingredients necessary to make La Cage Au Folles the dazzling spectacle it deserves to be, however, its current state feels underbaked, in need of increased pace, energy, stakes and more bold choreography.
La Cage Au Folles is playing at The Arts Centre Playhouse, Melbourne, until December 7, Wednesday-Sunday at 7.30pm and Tuesday December 2 at 7.30pm, with 2pm matinees each Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. Bookings 1300 182 183 or visit www.artscentremelbourne.com.au