Still as current as today’s headlines, ever loveable La Cage envelopes the audience in witty humour, endearing characters and, that rarest of commodities, eminently hummable showtunes. Setting the production in the current day involves changing barely a word, with the type of moralistic, ‘family values’ campaigner such as M. Dindon still, unfortunately, all too recognisable. Oh for the day when audiences will struggle to even understand the concept of such a character.
Set at the glittering St. Tropez nightclub La Cage aux Folles, the heart of the show is the loving relationship between owner Georges and star attraction Albin (Zaza). Headlining the production, John O’May and David Rogers-Smith (Albin) give towering performances in these roles. The fact that their incredible talent doesn’t wipe out the rest of the actors is testament to the terrific skills, and expert casting, of the full company.
Years of experience are evident in every nuance, inflection and mannered mannerism of O’May, who paints a vivid picture despite the somewhat underwritten nature of the role of Georges. Fit, glowing and handsome as ever, O’May’s veins run with the electricity of performing, and it is hard to take your eyes off him whenever he is onstage.
Of all the skills required for an actor to portray Albin, singing is sometimes bottom of the list. Rogers-Smith, with his operatic background, brings a superb voice to the role, blowing the roof off with an up-the-octave ending to the anthem “I Am What I Am” and even producing some very appropriate vocal tricks as part of Zaza’s act. Rogers-Smith fully captures Albin’s fragile humanity, having the audience completely on his side by the time his cover is blown in the act two climax.
Chemistry between the two is strong, with so much history, comfort and affection portrayed in every look, word and touch.
Where to start on the embarrassment of riches that is the rest of the cast? Nicholas Kong is a daffy delight as Jacob the ‘maid’, his Eurotrash accent a hoot and his physical comedy truly hilarious. Francesca Arena makes the most of her chance to shine as the frou-frou Jacqueline. Peter Nicholls and Gabrielle O’Brien provide rock solid support as the unfortunate Dindons.
Reece Budin is a terrific discovery as Jean-Michel. With a lean, handsome intensity comparable to current British It Guy Eddie Redmayne, Budin creates a strong characterization and gives a delightful rendition of “Anne on my Arm.” Melanie Ott is criminally underused in the bit part of Anne, lovely though it is to see her on stage.
Uniformly glamorous, The Cagelles are a delight. Their cattiness never lets up, even during the most challenging dance numbers they are seen pushing, scratching and clawing their way into the downstage centre spotlight. And all those jumps into the splits will bring an empathetic tear to the eye of many a gentleman in the crowd. A degree of nerves in the boys playing the Cagelles will most certainly settle down in the coming performances.
Full credit to Director Shaun Kingma for guiding the cast to such a warm, humorous and involving performance. The comedy really hits its peak in act two to great effect. The wordy book can feel a little bloated, particularly in act one, but the action moves along nicely. The only questionable decision is to have so many of the cast in neutral accents while Jacob and Jacqueline’s accents are so pronounced. Georges and Albin could have relocated to the Riviera but the Dindons would surely be as French as Jacqueline.
Choreography, by Tamara Finch and James Rooney, is entertaining, slick and witty, well matched to the considerable talents of the dancers and working perfectly with costumes. The birdlike movements are fun, and the tribute Will Rogers Follies’ “Our Favourite Son” is an unexpected treat.
Kirk Skinner leads the orchestra in a splendid performance of the score. Audience appreciation of the music was shown on opening night by the number who stayed to cheer after the play out. Sound Design by Marcello Lo Ricco is reliably excellent, picking up the full range of instruments and balancing with voices efficiently. Lighting by Brad Alcock is mostly very good, hampered, however, by the occasional mismatch of colour for the costumes and too much colour occasionally preventing faces being clearly seen.
To take nothing away from the rest of the creative team, the highlight is most assuredly the eye-popping costumes, designed by Isaac Lummis. The sheer number of them is incredible, each designed brilliantly and made from the most shimmering, spectacular fabrics and trimmings imaginable. This is an immense achievement and huge congratulations go to all involved in creation of these costumes. Setting off these stunning frocks is the delicious make up and wig styling of the inimitable David Wisken.
Put A Little More Mascara on and hurry down to the National Theatre for a night of pure entertainment.
Photos: #1, #2, #5: Gavin D Andrew, #3, #4: Emily McCoy