Every show has its special audience, one to whom the story and its characters seem to speak personally. What transforms that show into one with universal appeal requires a special sort of magic. That can be provided by the writing, or the music, the design elements or the performances. You may not be able to pinpoint which of these it is (or indeed a fusion of them) but you know when you’ve experienced it.
That’s what happened on the opening night of the new tour of the Herman-Fierstein musical La Cage aux Folles in Norwich last night. It’s a visual extravaganza, this deceptively simple story of a drag-act nightclub in Saint-Tropez, thanks to designers Ben Cracknell, Gary McCann, and Richard Mawbeyand to choreographer Bill Deamer. Martin Connor’s direction keeps the action brisk when it needs to be – though the first half seems a trifle over-long, due I suspect to the telescoping of a three-act piece into two parts.
Spontaneous standing ovations – real ones I mean , not the carefully orchestrated variety – are rae in regional theatre. It was a deserved tribute to the magnificent performance by John Patridge as Albin, the trasnvestite diva in command of the stage but much less sure of his long-term relationship with Adrian Zmed’s Georges and Georges’ son – the result of a one-night stand – Jean-Michele (Dougie Carter). The peacock flock of Cagelles, with their on- and off-stage personae so lighgtly yet three-dimensionally sketched for us, also merit their plaudits.
It’s the sort of story where young, heterosexual love isn’t really to the fore. Both Carter and Alexandra Robinson as Anne, the girl Jean-Michele wants to marry and whose parents’ meeting with his own triggers the major flashpoints of the drama, do very well with words, song and dance. There are two enjoyable cameos from Marti Webb as Jacqueline (the restauretrice who saves the day, at a price) and Su Douglas as Mme Dindon, Anne’s mother – who turns out to be more of a scorpion than the worm which husband Paul F Monaghan thinks she is.
All in all, it’s got my reviewing schedule for 2017 off to a champagne start. Let’s see what else the year has to offer.
La Cage aux Folles runs at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 21 January with matinées on 20 and 21 January. The national tour until 26 August includes the Milton Keynes Theatre between 8 and 12 August.
Five star rating