Caged brilliance

by Faith Oxenbridge / 27 December, 2008
Faith Oxenbridge reviews La Cage aux Folles

It's official: the Court Theatre puts on the best musicals in the country and - according to an enthusiastic Canadian sitting next to me - possibly the world. La Cage aux Folles is its best yet. Last year's The Producers was a big hit with audiences and critics, but this musical, with its intelligent book, beautiful, melodic score and thumping great heart, combined with a brilliant cast and accomplished direction, makes The Producers eat its sequinned shorts.

The plot centres on transvestite drag artiste Albin - aka Zsa Zsa - and her partner, gay nightclub owner Georges. Together, they have raised Jean-Michel, Georges' son, who arrives home to tell his parents that he is getting married to the daughter of a right-wing politician who is arriving with his repressed wife that very night. The conflict - part French farce and part heart-rending drama - pivots on Jean-Michel's rejection of Albin, the only mother he has ever known. Eventually, Albin is allowed to meet the family as a heterosexual uncle, but Albin has lived too many years gloriously out of the closet and has other ideas.

Paul Barrett (Georges) and George Henare (Albin) as the two leads are outstanding. Barrett brings dignity, wit and compassion to his role, and Henare flits effortlessly from wounded mother to self-centred prima donna. They both sing beautifully, too, and their tender duets are one of the highlights of this production. What is most exceptional, however, is how, in a musical with a storyline and characterisations as thin as its leads' eyebrows, the characters and their 20-plus-year relationship are so utterly convincing in the hands of these two actors.

The musical is more than 20 years old, too, but is still topical and meaningful. How many transvestite mothers push baby buggies confidently down your street? And then there's the right-wing politician ...

Director Sandra Rasmussen honours the spirit of a show that moves far beyond gay politics. Her production exudes a joyous, life-affirming message about our capacity for love, and is deliciously overlaid with playful, tongue-in-cheek staging.

La Cage aux Folles is more cabaret than traditional musical and if it's a heel-kicking, satin-swirling spectacle you're after, this one may not do it for you. But if you like sly humour ("our baby's getting married ... where did we go wrong?"), steamy, seamy Riviera decadence (Tony Geddes' set is a stunner), understated, yet evocative choreography and music, then, as the title song says, "come in for a drink and you'll want to stay for the winter at La Cage aux Folles".

La Cage aux Folles, music and lyrics by Jerry Herman, book by Harvey Fierstein, directed by Sandra Rasmussen, musical direction by Richard Marrett, Court One, Christchurch, until February 14.

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