John Barrowman, returning to the musical stage after a five-year absence, last night (5 October 2009, previews from 14 September) became the latest star to don sequins and tights as drag queen Albin/Zaza in Terry Johnson’s multi award-winning Menier Chocolate Factory revival of La Cage Aux Folles at the West End’s Playhouse Theatre.

Panto and concert tours aside, Barrowman hasn’t been on stage since 2005 when he starred opposite Rob Lowe in the courtroom drama A Few Good Men at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. He’s best known theatrically for his musical credits including Trevor Nunn’s 2002 revival of Anything Goes, which transferred to the West End’s Theatre Royal Drury Lane after opening at the National and for which Barrowman won the 2004 Whatsonstage.com Award for Best Actor in a Musical.

In more recent years, Barrowman has become a household name from his TV appearances in Torchwood, Doctor Who and as a judge on the BBC musical theatre competitions How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?, Any Dream Will Do and I’d Do Anything, which were hosted by Graham Norton, who made his West End debut playing Zaza earlier this year (See News, 27 Nov 2008).

The role in Johnson’s revival was originally played by Douglas Hodge, who won this year’s Olivier for Best Actor in a Musical for it. Barrowman has taken over from another Olivier Award winner, Roger Allam (See 1st Night TV, 14 May 2009). He stars opposite Simon Burke, last seen as Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music, as his on-stage lover Georges.

To coincide with last night’s opening, our TV partners at Reelkandi paid a visit to the Playhouse Theatre to chat with John Barrowman and Simon Burke for this video feature, which also includes exclusive performance extracts from the show.

Based on the 1973 French play by Jean Poiret and subsequent 1978 French-Italian screen version, Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein’s 1983 Broadway musical comedy 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. In 1996 it was adapted for the big screen as The Birdcage, starring Robin Williams.

The revival is designed by Tim Shortall and choreographed by Whatsonstage.com Award winner Lynne Page, with costumes by Matthew Wright, wigs and make-up by Richard Mawbey, musical supervision and orchestrations by Jason Carr and musical direction by Michael Haslam. The current cast also features Syrus Lowe, Abigail McKern, Iain Mitchell, Alicia Davies, Gabriel Vick and Tracie Bennett.

The production was first seen at the 150-seat Menier Chocolate Factory in Southwark, where it ran, with Hodge and Quast, from 9 January to 8 March 2008 (previews from 27 November 2007). It opened at 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 won two Whatsonstage.com Awards and the Critics’ Circle Award for Best Musical.