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Iconic Musical Is Anything But A Drag
Musical La Cage aux Folles has cemented itself as an iconic favourite for not just championing gay rights but also due to its witty, multi-dimensional characters.
A new revival from heavyweight producer Bill Kenwright takes La Cage back on the road knowing that there are high expectations from audiences for this show that won six Tony Awards and heralded the gay anthem I Am What I Am after its premiere in 1983.
Glamorous scenes in a new production of La Cage aux Folles
What hits you immediately is the lavish polished set that moves between the south of France home of gay couple Georges and Albin, the very glamorous nightclub they run (called La Cage aux Folles) and the riviera streets.
Opening with a glittering number by the club's dancers Les Cagelles and drag artiste Albin, it's all feathers, sparkle and sensational costumes before the story gets going. Georges' grown-up son, Jean-Michele, who they have brought up together, visits with news he is engaged but his new love's parents are right wing traditionalists who have waged a war against transvestite clubs in France.
A rather unappreciative Jean-Michele wants Albin to lay low when the parents come to visit as he's anxious that Albin's flamboyant nature will ruin his marriage plans.
John Partridge in a very different look as drag artiste Albin
Former EastEnders star John Partridge gives a standout performance as transvestite Albin, playing the complex character with suitable eccentricity and an acid tongue when she's working on stage but an emotional vulnerability when off set and shunned by her step-son.
It's remarkable to think that just a few months ago Partridge was impressing in a very different guise as slick, debonair lawyer Billy Flynn in musical Chicago at Birmingham's New Alexandra Theatre. This time he's glammed up beyond belief and convincing as drag artiste Albin, particularly in a hilarious section where he does Albin's act at the club and teases members of the audience.
He's not the only one well cast as there's a lovely chemistry between Partridge and Broadway star Adrian Zmed, playing the more subdued partner Georges. Zmed will probably be familiar to many as a star of 1980's show TJ Hooker in which he played hunky officer Vince Romano.
Zmed's smooth, dreamy voice enhances the charming songs in this musical like Look Over There, Song on the Sand and With You On My Arm . He seems to add a big dose of sentimentality and sincere devotion to George's' character and I noticed Dougie Carter, starring as son Jean-Michele, has the same lovely tone of voice too that makes you swoon.
La Cage aux Folles is a romantic comedy
It's Partridge who brings a lump to the throat though ahead of the interval. He is sensational as an upset Albin performing I Am What I Am after just being told she's too outrageous to attend the gathering where all the parents will meet. Starting off with tearful trepidation, he powers through with defiance. It's no wonder this song became a gay anthem.
While the second act has more comedy than emotion, it ties up all the loose ends and becomes a morality tale of being true to yourself and also appreciating and respecting those who love you.
The song The Best Of Times is a swaying sing-along tune that also makes good use of the voice of West End icon Marti Webb, whose playing likeable local restaurateur Jacqueline.
John Partridge and Marti Webb sing iconic songs
What's special about this new production is that it manages to balance being tender and heartfelt while also being acutely funny and part of that is down to fine casting.
On the surface, La Cage aux Folles dazzles with sparkling costumes, feather boas and dancers but deep down, the heart of this sensational show is its emotion. It's anything but a drag.