Saturday, 8 December 2007

Go for the mystery, the magic and the mood

It's rather gaudy but it's also rather grand.
And while the waiter pads your check he'll kiss your hand.
The clever gigolos romance the wealthy matrons
At La Cage Aux Folles.

It's slightly forties, and a little bit "New Wave".
You may be dancing with a girl who needs a shave.
Where both the riffraff and the royalty are patrons
At La Cage Aux Folles.

La Cage Aux Folles,
The Maitre d' is dashing,
Cage Aux Folles,
The hat check girl is flashing,

It's bad and beautiful,
It's bawdy and bizarre.
I know a Duchess who got pregnant at the bar.
Just who is who and what is what
Is quite a question at La Cage Aux Folles.

Go for the mystery, the magic and the mood.
Avoid the hustlers,
And the men's room,
And the food.
For you get glamour and romance and indigestion
At La Cage Aux Folles.

La Cage Aux Folles,
a Saint Tropez tradition,
Cage Aux Folles
You'll lose each inhibition,

All week long we're wondering who
Left a green Givenchy gown in the loo.
You go alone to have the evening of your life.
You meet your mistress
And your boy-friend and your wife.

It's a bonanza, it's a mad extravaganza,
At La Cage Aux Folles.

Ten of us went to see the new production of La Cage Aux Folles at the Menier Chocolate Factory last night, full of anticipation. The show has seemed ill-fated, with several bouts of illness forcing the previews to be delayed three times - and indeed the intended lead Douglas Hodge is still unwell and was replaced by his understudy. But we were definitely in for a treat!!

Everyone should be familiar with the plot - whether from the original (brilliant) French film, its US remake The Birdcage, or indeed this, the Jerry Herman/Harvey Fierstein musical. Two ageing queens Albin and Georges, who run a drag club on the French Riviera, have their lives turned upside down when "their" son announces his engagement to the daughter of a right-wing politician, and farce follows...

Star of the show at La Cage Aux Folles is Zaza, alter-ego of the ultra-camp Albin, who was played to quivering perfection by (the understudy) Spencer Stafford.

Despite a bit of a shaky start, he really came into his own in the first half when Zaza's stage show begins. Spencer commands a breathtaking presence when, during the show's title number, he stands among the troupe stirring a Martini. The faster he stirs, the faster the "Cagelles" spin around him. When he stops stirring they stop twirling. When he eats the olive, they fall to his feet, and he/she stands there, queen of all he surveys. Genius!

The interplay between Albin and Georges (played subtly and skilfully by Philip Quast) provides a wonderful insight into the complexities of relationships, no matter who they are. Torn between his love for his son, and his loyalty and love for Albin, Georges has some of the most emotional and stirring numbers in the show, Song on the Sand and Look Over There - and Philip's beautiful renditions had several of us in tears. Even I welled up...

As the story unfolds, Albin's reaction to being told he is not welcome at the eventual meeting with the prospective in-laws leads him to sing the show's most famous and triumphal number I Am What I Am - revealing with bitterness just how strong and resilient he is, and providing us with an insight of just why the couple have stayed together so long.

Then the real farce ensues - Albin's attempts to "play it straight" as the boy's "uncle", and the eventual meeting with the girl's nauseating father and his dim wife (played by Una Stubbs), where Albin emerges as "Maman". The interplay between the characters (and their fabulous "maid" Jacob) is hilarious. And the restaurant scene, when Albin sings the show's most brilliant number The Best Of Times Is Now, is an absolute joy!

As in all classic shows there has to be a dazzling denouement, and the closing sequence where the politician father has to escape the paparazzi is played to glittering sequinned perfection. And there is a lovely happy ending...

I cannot fault this show! Every one of us enjoyed it so much - the tears and the laughs, and the sheer feeling of uplifting exuberance it gave us - that we are even talking about going to see it again before it closes in March 2008...

Given the Menier Theatre's record of success - their productions of Little Shop of Horrors and Sunday in the Park with George have both gone on to West End and worldwide acclaim - I sincerely hope that La Cage Aux Folles will see the same level of success. West End - here we come!

Menier Chocolate Factory


And for the homosexual in your life...

Camp Classics Collection: Some Like It Hot, Priscilla Queen Of The Desert, La Cage Aux Folles and The Birdcage.

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