Review: La Cage Aux Folles

June 19, 2009
La Cage Aux Folles

La Cage Aux Folles

More Than Frocks, Wigs and Dressing Up

Having watched a Channel 4 documentary on Transsexuals entering a beauty pageant in America the night before my viewing of La Cage Aux Folles, perhaps it’s not surprising that I was already in the mind set for glamor and extravagant costumes. La Cage offers this and so much more.

The show reminded me somewhat of a panto, complete with dame and tedious songs, giving that heart warming feeling of memories of my ‘youth’, [ironic considering the nature of this blog]. The set, the singing, even the theatre itself gave off this nostalgia for me. Perhaps it was the style of the show, an almost cabaret… although I’m not a fan of this style… so why do I rate this production well?

Roger Allam as Albi, the star of the La Cage Aux Folles night club, goes beyond the notion of an aging transvestite living her life on the stage. Showing true emotion in the well known song of ‘I am what I am’, being sung after hearing that she is unwanted at the family gathering for the celebration of her son’s engagement, due to her very nature of dressing up and flamboyant self. The stillness and direct delivery of this show tune hits the audience much harder than possibly anticipated. The stark lighting and silence that ripples through the auditorium gave me a moment of goose bumps.

It would be true to say that I was moved. I’ve never understood the nature of the song, and even recall singing it myself once in a ‘talent contest’ whilst abroad, how silly that seems now to the actual context, perhaps a sign of my naivety?

However the song “I am what I am” is not just for this character, for this preference in attire, it is true for everyone.

I feel somewhat proud of who I am. Regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or age – I’m proud of me, as a person. This was my reaction to this beautiful moment, when Albi tears off her wig, stares into the audience and sings the final note. Chilling.

There were other commendable performances given from Philip Quast playing Georges and Stuart Neal as Jean-Michele, who both kept the balance of masculinity against the femine ‘show girls’.

It’s a pity that the production does not feature the male ensemble dancers more. They bring such grand sparkling energetic dance sequences, that made me want to shout, “more, more!”. When they enact a Moulin Rouge Can-Can dance the true talent of these performers shines. With high kicks worthy of awards, these ensemble boys deserve a show of their own.

However this production touches further afield than the frocks, wigs and dressing up of men as women. It moves beyond the dancing and singing of show girls. It wades into the wider issues of homosexuality and transvestites, and the transformation of man to woman, and ultimately into prejudices against same sex couples.

La Cage Aux Folles might seem like a whole load of fun, but there are certainly deeper issues being addressed. It’s just a shame that there were so many unfilled seats surrounding me in the dress circle… a sign for the future of the show? Let’s hope not.

[So where is my dress and wig? I’ve got some dance moves to practice, because I am what I am.]

La Cage Aux Folles is booking until January 2010 at the Playhouse Theatre.

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