Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein’s La Cage Aux Folles made its debut in 1983, leaving an unmistakable impact on Broadway and beyond. Receiving numerous awards, including six Tony Awards, La Cage broke barriers for LGBTQIA+ representation on stage by becoming the first musical centred on a gay relationship. Since then, productions of La Cage have been produced all around the world and the show has received multiple award-winning revivals. The last time La Cage was seen in London, was in 2008 at the Menier Chocolate Factory before transferring to the West End’s Playhouse Theatre. This year, a new production has been mounted at Regents Park Open Air Theatre and London audiences once again have the chance to celebrate authenticity and the power of love in La Cage Aux Folles.
Based on the 1973 French play of the same name, La Cage Aux Folles invites audiences into the extravagant world of a glamorous drag nightclub in Saint-Tropez. Where the charismatic owner of the club Georges and his partner Albin, the enchanting star performer known as Zaza, have created a haven of unapologetic self-expression. Trouble arises when Georges’ son, Jean-Michel, announces his engagement to Anne, the daughter of a staunchly conservative politician. In an effort to impress Anne’s parents and maintain the illusion of a traditional family, Georges and Albin find themselves entangled in a web of hilarious disguises as Albin transforms into “Mrs. Albin,” a prim and proper maternal figure. Exploring themes of love, family and self-expression, the show celebrates the vibrant world of drag performances and offers a poignant portrayal of challenges faced by a gay couple as they navigate societal norms and parental expectations.
As our master of ceremonies, Billy Carter is delightful as Georges. An instantly recognisable father figure to all who frequent the club, George is an important character to get right and Carter hits the nail on the head. Through a confident performance and strong vocal, Carter delivers a George that radiates warmth and tenderness throughout. As Albin, Carl Mullaney delivers a beautiful performance. Loud and proud onstage as Zaza and facing a whirlwind of emotional complexities offstage as Albin, Mullaney manages these intricacies with grace, poise and resilience. Commanding a powerful vocal presence throughout, Mullaney delivers character driven performances of La Cage favourites (A Little More) Mascara, The Best of Times and the emotional I Am What I Am. Few musical theatre books demand as much depth and engagement from their lead actors as La Cage and both Carter and Mullaney brilliantly tackle the language and characters with their own unique touch. Together, they skillfully draw the audience into their relationship with humour, wit and genuine affection. As their son Jean-Michel, Ben Culleton is captivating. Reminiscent of a young Charlie Stemp, Culleton sings and dances his way across the stage with a confident ease and it’s easy to see why Sophie Pourret’s Anne has fallen for him. As his Anne, Pourret gave a charming performance and her pas de deux with Culleton enchanted the audience reminding us of the golden era of musical theatre. As Anne’s parents, Julie Jupp as Marie Dindon and Craig Armstrong (on media night) as Edward Dindon were the perfect uptight conservative couple. As flamboyant ally Jacqueline, Debbie Kurup brought an exuberant energy to the role and performed with delightful charm throughout and playing a multitude of characters from Drag Kings to sequined birds, the La Cage Cagelles were a quick-changing, all-singing, all-dancing delight.
For a show that sets its world around a club or theatre, having La Cage performed outdoors was no easy feat. Colin Richmond’s inventive set design features portable backstage flats and adaptable furniture that is easily moved around the stage by the Cagelles to seamlessly depict each scene. While the weathered aesthetic harmoniously blends with the natural surroundings of Regents Park. Ryan Dawson Laight’s costumes were fabulous and combined with Howard Hudson’s dazzling lighting, made this production of La Cage that extra bit more magical.
Set against the stunning backdrop of the park’s natural beauty, this outdoor production of La Cage Aus Folles brings to life the heartwarming and hilarious tale of love, family and acceptance. With a talented cast, captivating performances and the enchanting ambiance of an open-air setting, La Cage Aux Folles shines as the crowning jewel of this season’s Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre lineup.
Reviewed by Stuart James