La Cage Aux Folles has been around, in various guises, for 40 years now, but rather than becoming stale, it’s still as ground-breaking now as it was then (and just as relevant), and this new production of Harvey Fierstein and Jerry Herman’s astonishingly vibrant and sassy musical hits all the right notes without a sequin, feather, or witty comment out of place. Directed by Tim Sheader, La Cage Aux Folles is a beautiful celebration of life, love, and being yourself, and that’s something we all need to make more time for.
La Cage Aux Folles tells the story of Georges (Billy Carter), the owner of a glamorous drag nightclub called La Cage Aux Folles, and his husband Albin (Carl Mullaney), the star performer of the club who goes by the stage name Zaza. The story takes off when Georges’ son, Jean-Michel (Ben Culleton), announces his engagement to Anne (Sophie Pourret), the daughter of a conservative politician, Edward Dindon (normally played by John Owen-Jones, but on this occasion, it was his cover, Craig Armstrong). The catch? Anne’s family is ultra-traditional and anti-gay. In an effort to impress Anne’s family and secure their approval for the marriage, Jean-Michel convinces Georges and Albin to hide their true identities and present a more conventional image. It doesn’t work, proving that, because it seems we still need to be told, people are who they are, and always will be – hiding away just causes more problems than it solves and in the end, no one’s happy.
Costumes are a big part of La Cage Aux Folles, and they are indeed fabulous; glitter, sequins, feathers, a candelabra, dressing room mirrors – you name it, they’ve got it. The incredible attention to detail in each costume brings the characters to life, and when those dazzling outfits catch the sunlight during the daytime scenes or shimmer under the moonlight, it’s a sight to behold. Bravo to the costume designer Ryan Dawson Laight for giving us a visual treat that’s as vibrant as the characters themselves.
Even if you don’t know all the songs from La Cage Aux Folles, you’re sure to be aware of the incredible anthem that is ‘I Am What I Am’. This song is a standout among a score that has a lot to say, and Carl Mullaney’s interpretation of it is astonishing. We’d been teased with this melody through the first act, tantalised by the very first song, where the Cagelles (the drag artists from the club) did an extraordinary dance routine and sang ‘We Are What We Are’, but it was this moment that everyone was waiting for, and it did not disappoint. Fierce and devastating and beautifully raw, this song encapsulated every thought, feeling, and emotion into one iconic number – it’s one thing to know the song, but it’s quite another to hear and see it done in such an honest and triumphant way.
But that’s not the only song to watch out for; each one is great, each one with stunning choreography or witty lyrics (often both), each one – crucially – driving the story along rather than holding it back. Apart from any time the Cagelles were on stage (which was always a delight), another superb moment was during the song ‘The Best of Times’, when the performers danced not just with one another, but with the set, and it worked wonderfully well, giving another fun visual that won’t easily be forgotten.
How does it feel to be in the audience of La Cage Aux Folles? You’re entertained, warmed, intrigued, and, as strange as it might seem, you feel loved. You feel included. And that’s the point; you are what you are, and that’s precisely the message La Cage Aux Folles leaves you with – and it’s a welcome one.
La Cage Aux Folles is playing at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre