La Cage aux Folles is a deeply human, deeply affecting musical play. It is also very camp, very gaudy and very, very funny. And in this production by the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, anchored by a stunning lead performance from Carl Mullaney, it makes for a vastly entertaining, often rousing, evening.
Harvey Fierstein and Jerry Herman’s musical, based on Jean Poiret’s French farce of the same name, is set in St Tropez, on the French Riviera, where Georges (Billy Carter) runs a drag nightclub, the eponymous La Cage Aux Folles.
Billy Carter as Georges in La Cage aux Folles. Photo: Johan Persson
The star attraction is the drag queen Zaza, aka Albin (Carl Mullaney), Georges's long-term partner. Other than Zaza’s occasional diva behaviour requiring great patience and diplomacy from Georges, things are going swimmingly until the appearance of Jean-Michel (Ben Culleton), Georges’s son from a youthful indiscretion, whom his feckless mother left to be brought up by Georges and Albin.
Jean-Michel is in love and wants to get married.
Ben Culleton as Jean-Michel and Sophie Pourret as Anne in Las Cage aux Folles. Photo: Johan Persson
However, his fiancée, Anne (Sophie Pourret), is the daughter of the fearsome bigot Edouard Dindon, leader of the TFM (Tradition, Family, Morality) Party ( a suitably pompous Craig Armstrong on press night), who’s committed to shutting down all dens of iniquity, such as La Cage.
Anne’s family are coming over to meet Jean-Michel’s parents, and with the callow eagerness of youth Jean Michel decrees that the effeminate Albin is an embarrassment and must disappear for the duration.
Carl Mullaney makes us feel every last bit of Albin’s hurt and humiliation at being spurned by the boy to whom all his life he has been, in his words, ‘a mother’. A deeply expressive actor, his body visibly shrinks as if crushed by the boy’s casual cruelty, but he does snap out of his misery: he straightens his back, raises his head, proudly and defiantly tilts his chin and launches into what became the show’s best-known song, and an anthem of gay pride, I Am What I Am.
Carl Mullaney as Albin/Zaza in La Cage aux Folles. Photo: Mark Senior
Mullaney’s delivery sends shivers down your spine.
This being a comedy, though, albeit one with plenty of heart, things resolve themselves for the better, thanks to Albin’s resourcefulness and with a little help from their friends, including luxury restaurant owner Jacqueline, a hilarious turn from Debbie Kurup.
Directed by Tim Sheader and choreographed by Stephen Mear, this lavish and joyous production, with a surfeit of outsize sequins, gold lamé, and false lashes, boasts the campest of camp backing dancers, the fabulous Cagelles, their expert dance numbers culminating in a jaw-dropping, rousing can-can.
La Cage aux Folles ensemble. Photo: Mark Senior
This is a play about many things: transformation, it’s fascinating to see Albin in his dressing room slowly morphing into Zaza; illusion, the Cagelles boast of wearing ‘girdles and jocks’; but ultimately about love that transcends bigotry. It was topical when Poiret wrote the play in the early 1970s, topical when Fierstein and Herman’s musical opened on Broadway in 1983, and it remains topical today.
If the weather cooperates, you won’t find a more joyous outing in London this summer.
Age Guidance: 12+
|What||Review: La Cage aux Folles, Regent's Park Theatre|
|Where||Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park, Inner Cir, Westminster, London, NW1 4NU | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Regent's Park (underground)|
19 Jul 23 – 16 Sep 23, 19:45 Thur & Sat mats at 14:15. Dur.: 2 hours 30 mins inc one interval
|Price||£23 - £60|
|Website||Click here for more information and to book|