Terry Johnson's revival of the Jerry Herman/Harvey Fierstein musical ran at the 150-seat Chocolate Factory, with original Albin Douglas Hodge opposite Quast, from 9 January to 8 March 2008 (previews from 27 November 2007), before transferring to its current home the Playhouse on 30 October 2008 (previews from 20 October).
This year, in addition to two Oliviers (the second for Best Musical Revival), La Cage aux Folles has won two Whatsonstage.com Awards and the Critics’ Circle Award for Best Musical.
The Q&A took place in the theatre immediately after the performance and was chaired by Whatsonstage.com's Terri Paddock. Click on the 'play' button above to listen – edited highlights follow …
On playing Albin:
Roger Allam: It’s a great part and it’s a great show, I saw it when I was in The Chocolate Factory, and I realized I hadn’t been in a proper musical since City of Angels in 1993. I thought it seemed a good opportunity and they offered to pay me as well, it all fell into place.
On coming back to the show with new cast members and in a new theatre
Philip Quast: For me physically as a bigger man it’s nice to do it in a bigger space although I love the intimacy of the Chocolate Factory. This is a fantastic theatre, Roger and I sit and look at it all the time. It’s a lovely theatre to be in. And we’re very lucky that it’s quite small so it just manages to keep the intimacy that the Chocolate Factory had. And it was also great to come back and do it with a mate; Roger and I are old mates so that was great. We’ve know each other for 12-13 years.
On the show’s rocky start:
Jason Pennycooke: It almost didn’t happen, a couple of times we thought we were going to have to cancel the show completely, influenza, rat infestations, no electricity and putting makeup on by candle light and things like that. The show just pressed on. I think it’s because of the energy of the piece and the family of the piece and how it makes everybody that’s in it such a one unit that even if you argue or you fallout with people the next day it’s forgotten about and everybody is back together and that’s what drove the show on from the Chocolate Factory.
On being in drag:
Roger Allam: There are days when you have to shave your body. Because here, getting down and holding someone’s hand, if a great big hairy male hand comes over it’s not very convincing. You also have to shave your legs because the tights snag. There’s that sort of things that you have to do which is kind of maintenance. And heels are absolutely appalling, why do you wear heels? They are absolutely dreadful! There’s a wonderful woman who makes me up, so you can become very relaxed sitting in the chair being made up. And then you open your eyes and your face is completely different, then you put on tights and a dress and a wig.
Matthew Krzan: You have to wax out our eyebrows first, then powder them, then add a full face of foundation, then draw on the fake ones and cover it all up with eye shadow, eyeliner, fake eyelashes bottom and top, cheek bones, lip liner, lip gloss, shading. There more lip gloss you can put on your lips the better.
On wardrobe malfunctions:
Matthew Kzran: I had one yesterday. I have to wear black knickers under my dress, so I went backstage and took off my dress and I had forgotten my black knickers. So all I had on was a bra, heels and leather gloves and no knickers. So thank the Lord my dresser quickly went and grabbed a pair of mascara knickers with the pink bit on the front. I was hopping down the wings trying to get my heels through, nearly falling over, grabbed the whip and ran on stage.
On putting their own stamp on the character:
Abigail McKern: It’s a fine line. You want to bring something of your own to it so it is a little bit of your creation but you absolutely have to fit in the track of what’s been done before. You do try to do it exactly the same and then as you ease yourself into it you try and bring a little bit of your own new stuff to it. Otherwise you feel a bit like a robot.
Tracie Bennett: No one actually sits you down and tells you the rules, because I think they like you to think you’ve brought something of yourself to it. I’d rather have them say “Just copy it alright?” Then you know where you are. That’s the confusion sometimes.
Jason Pennycooke: I try and do different formats every night. I try to change an inflection, try to change a reflection and try to give a different intention. It’s lovely to get a different reaction from a different member of the cast because that gives me something fresh to work with.
On the audience effects:
Tracie Bennett: You listen to them but you can’t let them dominate you, you have to dominate them with the story. Sometimes you find that certain pacing goes wrong and you try to quicken up again but you can’t be beholden to the audience.
Philip Quast: What keeps it fresh is that it’s a different audience every night. There’s nights when we don’t get laughs at all, and yet they'll stand up at the end because it’s a living organism. Then you have to work in different ways. I find it slightly frustrating because we have miked sound so we don’t have the control that we would normally have in theatre.
On the dance training:
Matthew Kzran: We’ve all been to dance colleges. I wouldn’t say I’m a ballet dancer but I did do ballet every morning for three years. We’ve all had to go through that kind of training but especially for this because we do every different kind of genre of dance: jazz, tap, ballet, a bit of contemporary, kicking our legs. I don’t really think I could have done this show if I hadn’t been properly trained.
On the orchestrating the dishes scene:
Abigail McKern: Well it is repetition. I thought I’ll never get this right and I don’t even have to do much in it. You do have to do it over, and over, and over again until you’re bloody sick of it to get it right. It is all about time.
Jason Pennycooke: It was a long process; I think it took longer than any part of the show to actually rehearse.
Philip Quast: The whole thing is designed to build up the entrance for mother. It’s ironic that the applause for dishes is the entrance for mother, and that’s the plot. The applause and the entrance, which is very unusual, are the same thing.