Forty years on, the winner of 11 Tony Awards remains so much rambunctious fun. This all-new Australian production stars five-time Helpmann Award winner Paul Capsis in the lead role of Albin. By his side is renowned singer and actor Michael Cormick (Beauty and The Beast, The Phantom of The Opera) as husband Georges.
Georges and the flamboyant, melodramatic Albin have lived happily together in St Tropez, above the drag nightclub “La Cage aux Folles”, for 20 years. Georges is the owner and emcee, while Albin is its star performer, Zaza. Looking after the latter’s best interests is their outlandish “maid” Jacob (Loredo Malcolm – The Rocky Horror Show, Hamilton), who dreams of performing on stage.
Twenty-four years earlier, Georges fathered a son, Jean-Michel (Noah Mullins). He was the result of a brief heterosexual fling with a showgirl named Sybil at the Lido cabaret in Paris. But, Sybil didn’t stick around and Jean-Michel has been raised by Georges as his father and Albin as his mother.
Returning from holidays, Jean-Michel drops the bombshell to Albin that he is engaged to be married to Anne Dindon (Genevieve Kingsford). She is the daughter of an archly conservative key figure in the Tradition, Family and Morality Party, Edouard (Peter Phelps). His stated goal is to close the local drag clubs.
Edouard and his wife Marie (Genevieve Morris) are keen to meet Anne’s future in-laws. Knowing that, a concerned Jean-Michel devises a plan to show his parents as restrained and, therefore, acceptable. That involves reconnecting with his long absent birth mother, presenting Georges as a retired diplomat and distancing the flashy Albin.
The dinner gathering, which starts in Georges and Albin’s dulled down home, moves to elegant restaurant Chez Jacqueline. That is owned by Albin’s stylish friend Jacqueline (Debra Byrne – Sunset Boulevard, Les Miserables). Needless to say, not all goes according to plan.
The book is by Harvey Fierstein, with music and lyrics from Jerry Herman. All these years later, La Cage aux Folles remains a sizzling farce, with key characters delightfully camped up. Society has certainly moved on since the Broadway musical based on the 1973 French play by Jean Poiret first came out, but its entertainment value remains high. The signature tune by Albin, I Am What I Am, that ends the first act, has enduring impact.
It is a case of affectations at the ready, as Albin and Jacob in particular milk their characterisations for all they are worth – and don’t the audience love it. Paul Capsis and Loredo Malcolm are bold and brilliant in a pair of “look at me”, strut and pout performances. It is also easy to admire the vocal timbre and authority that Michael Cormick exudes.
It is wonderful to see the highly talented Debra Byrne back on stage. Any opportunity to hear her open those vocal chords is one to cherish. More please. Noah Mullins has a delightful tone as Jean-Michel, while Bev Killick is a scene-stealer as La Cage aux Folles’ stage manager, Francis.
The choreography of the leggy and argumentative La Cage dancers by Veronica Beattie George is superb and the glittering costuming by Jozef Koda triumphant. The wigs and makeup by Drew-Elizabeth Johnstone are a sight for sore eyes.
I appreciated the set design by Grace Deacon, with the band, conducted by musical director Craig Renshaw, positioned at the back of the stage. Both the lighting by Phoebe Pilcher and sound by Anthony Lorenz are largely solid, although on opening night there were a couple of minor microphone issues.
Directed by Riley Spadaro, La Cage aux Folles is a polished, over-the-top, crowd pleaser that generates smiles and laughter. Oh, how we can do with that in today’s deeply troubled world! It is on at Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne, until 19th November, 2023.
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- The Music of The Night (Chapel off Chapel) – theatre review
- Jesus Christ Superstar (The Production Co) – theatre review
- Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show (Athenaeum Theatre) – musical theatre review
Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.