Skip to main content

Home Culture Culture Theatre

La Cage Aux Folles review: The gorgeously camp and gloriously romantic musical comedy soars

Carl Mullaney stars in a blissful revival at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre.

5.0 rating

By Simon Button

Carl Mullaney (Albin) in La Cage aux Folles
Carl Mullaney (Albin) in La Cage aux Folles (Image: Mark Senior)

Press night for la Cage Aux Folles at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre was a washout that would have sent the show’s drag queen hero Albin aka ZaZa into a right tizzy. About halfway through the first act, the drizzling rain (thank you, British summer) turned into a downpour. Earring-sporting attendee Hugh Bonneville rushed for the exits and conditions were deemed unsafe for the performers, especially for the Cagelles in their high heels.

Albin would have screeched about it being a disaster. Returning this week under much rosier weather conditions, I now look back on it as a sort of theatrical coitus interruptus – whetting the appetite for a production that felt a bit tentative, thanks no doubt to the cast’s concerns about the Met Office forecast. Re-viewing it under clear skies, I’m happy to say this new take on the gorgeously camp and gloriously romantic musical comedy soars.

La Cage aux Folles ensemble
La Cage aux Folles ensemble (Image: Mark Senior)

It is set in, above, and around the St. Tropez club of the title, although designer Colin Richmond has refashioned it to look like a rundown seaside resort somewhere in the North of England. Regional accents abound and the Cagelles have been reimagined too. The drag chorus line is usually comprised of leggy femme queens in showgirl glam. But Ryan Dawson Laight reclothes them in outré frocks and big knickers, and now they come in all shapes, sizes, and levels of facial hair.

The heart of the show remains the same, though, and thank goodness for that. Harvey Fierstein’s book is pitch-perfect and full of zingers. Composed in the early ’80s, Jerry Herman’s score remains one of the most sublime in musical theatre history and it doesn’t just boast the cast-iron anthem that is ‘I Am What I Am’. It’s an embarrassment of showstoppers, comedy numbers, and lovely love songs between Albin and his long-suffering but deeply devoted spouse Georges.

Carl Mullaney (Albin) in La Cage aux Folles
Carl Mullaney (Albin) in La Cage aux Folles (Image: Mark Senior)

Back in 1983 when La Cage premiered on Broadway, its gay love story was revolutionary and the producers were hesitant about having two men kiss as they strode off into the sunset. They were wrong; the show was a smash hit. It’s even more timely today, what with the fact that Georges’s son is engaged to the daughter of a right-wing homophobe and begs his dad to pretend to be straight.

As Albin, Carl Mullaney is so funny when attempting to butch it up and heartbreaking when he belts out ‘I Am What I Am’ at the end of act one to a standing ovation. A seasoned actor and the host of Kinky Kabaret at Freedom Bar Soho for the past 12 years, Carl knows how to work an audience as well as delve deep into a character whose flamboyance in drag is matched by raging insecurities when he’s being himself.

Billy Carter (Georges) in La Cage aux Folles (Image: Johan Persson)

Billy Carter is equally wonderful as Georges and the entire cast, from supporting players to those fantastically in-your-face Cagelles, excels. When they perform ‘The Best of Times’ in perfect harmony, it’s as blissful as theatre gets.

La Cage Aux Folles is at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, London, until 23 September. Get tickets here.