Photos: First Glimpse at Graham Norton in Full DragDate: 27 November 2008
Journalists got a sneak peek at Graham Norton as a woman at today’s press launch at the Playhouse Theatre to announce the TV presenter’s West End debut taking over from Douglas Hodge as drag queen Zaza in La Cage Aux Folles (See Today’s Other News). Norton will perform eight shows a week – bar some absences for filming commitments – from 19 January to 25 April 2009.
As the curtains opened on today’s launch, Norton descended the onstage staircase as the show’s eight-strong troupe of Cagelles belted out “I Am What I Am” – the anthem that Norton will sing in the show (though he didn’t today as his voice is still “under embargo”) – and then posed, puckered and pouted for an army of photographers.
Back in civilian clothes for interviews after the photoshoot, Norton explained that he’d wanted to tackle the role of Zaza since first seeing a 1984 US tour of La Cage Aux Folles when he was in his twenties – but that it will be a one-off West End excursion for him. Now that his “nightmare has come true”, he said, “the theatregoing public can rest assured, I have no ambitions for musical theatre apart from this”.
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Already a fan of Terry Johnson’s Menier Chocolate Factory revival of La Cage Aux Folles, Norton confessed “I don’t want to wreck it … If I don’t destroy it like some sort of Godzilla in heels crashing through the jungle, I’ll be pleased.” He continued that his performance would be very different to Douglas Hodge’s, particularly as a gay man in the role, which brought its own “odd pressure”. “If a straight man (like Hodge) does it, that’s a very good performance. I carry the gayness on with me” which has its advantages but also its disadvantages because “your performance has got to be extra good on top of that”.
Norton attributed his “reawakened” interest in theatre to working with Andrew Lloyd Webber on the BBC One reality TV shows How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?, Any Dream Will Do and I’d Do Anything and attending myriad first nights in the wake of their success. Lloyd Webber hasn’t commented much on Norton’s own stage foray, but various contestants from the programmes have been sending him Facebook messages.
Norton isn’t too worried about having the tables turned, with them watching him perform. “It would be different if I were on the panel,” he said as he was “on their side” they shouldn’t be “out to get me”: “I was nice to them so they should be nice to me”.
As for the critics, Norton is already bracing himself for bad reviews. His debut will, he reckoned, be “a late Christmas present for theatre critics”. And on opening night? “I imagine there will be a little bit of poo trickling down my thigh.”
Based on the 1973 French play by Jean Poiret and subsequent 1978 French-Italian screen version, La Cage Aux Folles focuses on a gay couple – Georges, the manager of a St Tropez nightclub featuring drag entertainment, and Albin/Zaza, his star attraction - and the adventures that ensue when Georges' son Jean-Michel brings home his fiancée's ultra-conservative parents to meet them. At the same time as Norton’s debut, Steven Pacey will take over from Denis Lawson as Georges.
- by Terri Paddock