Saturday, 17 March 2012

La Cage aux Folles, March 16, 2012 ***

Book by Harvey Fierstein, Lyrics & Music by Jerry Herman

Produced by Quirky Productions
National Theatre, St.Kilda, March 16 to 24, 2012
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Fri March 16, 2012
Stars: ***
 John O'May & David Rogers-Smith_La Cage aux Folles

LA CAGE AUX FOLLES IS THE ULTIMATE CAMP MUSICAL, taking ‘camp’ to its extreme with its drag show chorus line of dancing boys in spangles, its featured older homosexual couple and the leading lady being a decorative, besequined drag queen.

This 1983 Broadway show, based on Jean Poiret’s 1973 French play, boasts a warm, funny and sensitive love story by Harvey Fierstein, with Jerry Herman lyrics and rousing music, played here by the capable Melbourne Theatre Orchestra.

This Melbourne version captures the excesses of campery in its characters, choreography (Tamara Finch, James Rooney) and glitzy costuming (Isaac Lummis), but loses some of the glamour, sensitivity and comedy.

John O’May is dignified, elegant and amiable as Georges, the owner of a Saint Tropez nightclub with its dazzling but risqué drag show that stars his life partner, the celebrated drag queen, Albin/ZaZa, played by the rich-voiced David Rogers-Smith.

For 24 years the couple raised Georges’ son, Jean–Michel (Reece Budin), the product of a youthful fling with a showgirl.

When Jean-Michel invites his fiancée, Anne’s (Melanie Ott) right wing parents (Peter Nicholls, Gabrielle O’Brien) to dinner, Albin and Georges attempt to fake a straight household only to discover that they must be true to themselves.

The big song and dance numbers are features of this production and the drag chorus, known as Les Cagelles, opens the show with the feisty, confrontational and funny We Are What We Are (“and what we are is an illusion.”)

In stark contrast is Rogers-Smith’s moving and impassioned plea singing Albin’s version of this song, I Am What I Am highlights his extraordinarily powerful upper register and provides a memorable close to the first half. 

David Rogers-Smith_La Cage aux Folles

The tune Masculinity encapsulates the entire dilemma facing this family as the terminally effeminate Albin tries to learn how to walk, talk and butter his toast in a masculine manner. “More John Wayne and less Brigitte Bardot”, quips Georges.

Rogers-Smith is at his best when singing but sometimes looks uncomfortable during the comic repartee and lacking some genuine grace and glamour required for ZaZa the famous drag queen.

O’May uses his great showmanship in the compere role of Georges and delivers songs including With You On My Arm and Song On The Sand, with charm and panache.

Budin’s rich, bright vocal tones are perfectly suited to Jena-Michel’s songs With Anne On My Arm and Look Over There.

Sean Kingma’s production is not well paced, with slow scene changes and some awkwardness in the dialogue scenes and, although the small scale, movable set establishes location, it is often clumsy.

The opening night crowd of mostly older gay men certainly enjoyed the show but it has broader appeal in a community that is now accustomed to issues surrounding sexual preference, relationships and lifestyle choices.

By Kate Herbert

Supporting cast:
Francesca Arena, Nicholas Kong, Peter Nicholls, Gabrielle O'Brien, Reece Budin, Melanie Ott, Tim Minturn, Josh Stent, Erin Newington, Piera Calabro and as Les Cagelles  Joel Anderson, Joel Bow, Ed Deganos, Josh Duke, Jayden Hicks, Jeremy Hinman, Robert Mulholland and Gerwin Widjaja.

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