Review: La Cage Aux Folles (New Wimbledon Theatre)
John Partridge stars as Albin in the UK tour of the classic musical by Harvey Fierstein
La Cage aux Folles is a brilliant song and dance show, but its enduring appeal boils down to the way it also channels the nuances and day-to-day dramas of family life that so many people experience, from the humiliation of being considered too embarrassing to meet the parents, to the joy of watching a downtrodden wife stand up for herself at last.
And of course, La Cage has played its own political part in increasing – or at least promoting – tolerance by portraying the loving relationship between gay couple Albin and Georges in the most frank and engaging way.
In this latest revival of the 1983 musical, director Martin Connor embraces its full razzmatazz in a production bursting with energy, sauciness and sequins.
Albin is also a transvestite nightclub singer, Zsa Zsa, and it's a huge role that needs to deliver well beyond the ability to belt out a big number in a dress. John Partridge is magnificent. He has a head start with those chiselled cheekbones, flashing eyes and sleek physique, but his Yorkshire-accented star is full of heart, loyalty and love – as well as an irrepressible fabulousness both on and off La Cage's stage. Oh, and he's funny too, with a stand-up section that wins over any remaining doubters.
If Adrian Zmed is more convincing as Georges the dad, than as Georges the lover, he's in fine voice for numbers like "Song on the Sand". And cunning Jacqueline – the eventual saviour of La Cage – is the sparky and spirited Marti Webb.
Creating costumes for this show must be like winning the lottery for a designer, and Gary McCann gives full rein to the demands of the gorgeous Zsa Zsa and the entire troupe of dancers. From the classic sequined gowns to an outrageous feathered peacock ensemble, or the ruby-red can-can outfits with glossy laced boots, this is like opening a magic dressing-up box that just keeps on giving. No wonder that backstage, as Zsa Zsa confides, the changing rooms are ‘like Primark on Black Friday…'
The set is also a richly detailed confection of opulent cut-work gold, and swathes of plush red curtains, together with a glittering staircase that poses a serious challenge to anyone in six-inch heels – which means more or less everyone who has to come down it.
Jacob, the butler who (naturally) prefers to dress as a maid, is played with full-on camp by the engaging Samson Ajewole, who rocks his succession of outrageous outfits with the fully justified confidence of a man with catwalk-standard legs.
And talking of legs, this is one of the most well-drilled and compelling chorus lines you're likely to see, with a gold star to choreographer Bill Deamer and associate choreographer Kylie Anne Cruikshanks.
The band, led by MD Mark Crossland, capture all the nuances of the uplifting score, with terrific trumpet, and some especially attractive embellishments from Katie Punter on piccolo.
For a glittering, feel-good spectacular with real heart, this is a show to love.
La Cage aux Folles runs at New Wimbledon Theatre until 18 March and then tours the UK until 26 August.