Monday, 3 November 2008

REVIEW: "La Cage Aux Folles"

So I got lazy and the official critics already have their reviews up. So instead of a proper review, have some ramblings...

La Cage is a show that most theatre geeks find to be a minefield subject. On the one hand, it was a breakout hit and one of the first mainstream musicals on Broadway to deal with the gay lifestyle. On the other, it was a surprise upset for the Tony, taking Best Musical over Sunday in the Park with George, which is a sore spot for Sondheim fans. I love Sunday - I think it’s absolutely brilliant. And yes, I also liked La Cage, which I saw for the first time about a week ago.

The new West End production is based on last Christmas’s run at the Menier Chocolate Factory, and while the sets have been scaled up to fit the Playhouse’s more generous proportions, the cast, orchestra, and general production values have remained smaller than in the original. And while I hadn’t seen the show before and wouldn’t have known better, my companion for the evening (one of the top names in London drag) was quite familiar with the show, having seen both the original (and prematurely closed) West End run not to mention numerous regional productions across the UK.

His opinion? This La Cage keeps it real. The smaller ensemble (six male cagelles vs. eight men and two women) is closer to what a real club would have, Tim Shortall’s costumes are more down to Earth than in past runs, and the emotions are genuine. Neither of us were particularly fond of Douglas Hodge as testy tranny Albin at the interval, but Mr. Hodge found his character’s depth by the start of the second act and improved by leaps and bounds as the back half played out. As the papers raved for him, I’d guess that his issues have been resolved.

Personally, I liked the balance at hand in this production: both the loving relationship between Albin and Georges (Denis Lawson) as well as the panic that strikes son Jean Michel (Stuart Neal) which drives the show’s action: the same dread that comes from introducing friends and partners to overly religious or tragically unhip parents is instantly recognisable and though it’s devastating for Albin the audience are likely to understand the character’s motivation, passing off the character as more than a mere caricature.

So yeah. Believe the hype with this one: this is a high energy production (how else can 165 minutes fly by so fast?) but one which leaves the audience comfortably warm by the end. The fall season only has one big musical left (Imagine This, which won’t be covered here due to a paid review commission) so if you’re looking for a big, traditional West End fix or you want something romantic to replace the soon-to-close Brief Encounter, you owe it to yourself catch La Cage aux Folles while you can.

Where: Playhouse Theatre
When: Until 10 Jan., M-Sa @ 19:30, Th/Sa @ 14:30. Varies Xmas/New Year’s
How Much: £17.50-£55 (£57.50 for cabaret table seating - prepare to crane your neck.)
Concessions: Day seats available, check with the box office.
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £45 - The best thing to hit the West End in a while, but doesn’t quite come together enough for the top price.
RZ Other Notes: Rumour is that if sales are high the producers are planning to extend the run and bring in Graham Norton to play Albin. Take it with a rock of salt but so far there’s nothing announced yet to follow....

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