La Cage Aux Folles – 5 ★★★★★

acafgeA wave of camp hysteria and joyful celebration swept through the New Wimbledon Theatre on the London leg of the much loved La Cage Aux Folles tour. Literally translated as A Cage of Crazy Women or A Cage of Drag Queens the show is a roof raising spectacle and an affirming, delightful celebration of being true to one self. The effervescent French stage farce is a game of two halves conveying the energy and exuberance of a St Tropez drag nightclub while retaining heart and emotion in its celebration of love being love in whatever guise it wears.

Gay couple Albin and Georges’ love is at the bedrock of their cabaret business in a bubbling world of show tunes, tantrums and tiaras as they light up the French Riviera with electric performances from their fabulous drag entourage. In a world characterised by chaos and all things unconventional, the couple are parents to Jean Michele (Georges’ son for a previous relationship) who is straight and plans the marry the beautiful Anne. Chaos and calamity are never far from proceedings when it’s revealed his lover’s parents are puritanical folk with an innate hatred for the gay world and ultra conservative notions on what constitutes family. Slapstick, hysteria and breakdowns of diva proportions ensue when the time comes for the two sets of parents to meet…

Originally staged in London in the mid-80s at the height of the AIDS epidemic the show had a limited run on the West End stage, which many attributed to growing concerns of overtly portraying gay relationships and lifestyles at a time when homophobia was rife and the gay community fell foul of the intense media glare. Fast forward to Britain in 2017 where the nuclear family is common currency, gay marriage is legal and gay family life a reality and of no consequence except to a select few Daily Mail Deirdres, the show powerfully recalls the social shift and journey to acceptance. This is not just fun and frenzied action, this is a celebration that is ably animated by Jerry Herman’s mesmeric original score which includes the first act finale number “I Am What I Am” a track which remains as hummable, iconic and anthemic today as it did then.

Best known for his portrayal of Christian Clark in EastEnders, Johnny Partridge delivers a breath-taking performance in the role he was born to play as Albin/Zaza. Adopting a broad Lancashire accent that wouldn’t sound of place trading insults over the bar of the Rovers’ Return, he draws out all nuances of the role, both extravagantly as a show stopping diva and sincerely as part of a loving family man. The show as an experience is rich with razor sharp wit and laughs and an enduringly popular score. Lavish costumes, scenery and astute staging capture something of crossover between the opulence of the French Riviera and the energy and vibrancy of a chorus of Vegas showgirls. Playing Georges, Adrian Zmed, has a unique charisma and stage star Marti Webb as Jacqueline does not fail to deliver charm and style in abundance. It is a lavish tale underpinned by a heartfelt message and unforgettable score that is quite simply unmissable.

Review by Christopher Hall.

For dates and tickets see http://www.kenwright.com/microsite/…

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