The Production Company presents: La Cage Aux Folles
Starring: Todd McKenney, Simon Burke, Rhonda Burchmore, Gary Sweet, Marg Downey.
Director: Dean Bryant
Choreographer: Andrew Hallsworth
Music & Lyrics by: Jerry Herman
Review: Kate @ All That Geek
The anticipation of seeing La Cage Aux Folles had been six months in the making for me. From booking my ticket in May to finally making the trip from Sydney down to Melbourne in November. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the show, I knew a little about the story but I was excited anyway. I knew that one of my favourite performers John Barrowman had been in the 2009 London production with Simon Burke and that he (Burke) was reprising his role of Georges.
It turned out La Cage Aux Folles was everything I could have hoped for and more. It was funny, silly, heart-warming and moving. With themes about family, individuality and acceptance that are just as relevant now as they were when the show debuted on Broadway in 1983.
Simon Burke stars as Georges, the charismatic St. Tropez nightclub owner and long time partner of Albin, played wonderfully by Todd McKenney. Albin is also the clubs headline act, the renowned drag queen Zaza. The story centres on Georges and Albin’s colourful world as it becomes unravelled when Georges’ son, Jean-Michael, announces he’s marrying the daughter of a right-wing politician and he’s bringing his future in-laws to meet the family.
This was my first introduction to Simon Burke as a singer; I’m ashamed to admit my knowledge of his career was limited to a handful of TV roles and growing up watching him on Playschool. It was a delight to discover his amazing, and vastly underrated vocal talent as Georges sang his way through the romantic Song On The Sand and the poignant Look Over There. Burke shines as the charming Georges, a man torn between keeping both his son and husband happy.
Todd McKenney is easily my favourite Australian performer and I was sure he would do something amazing with Albin/Zaza. He effortlessly brings comedy and heart to the role – Albin is dramatic and sensitive where Zaza is sassy and sexy. There is no doubt that one of the highlights of the show is watching McKenney powering around on stage in platinum wigs, sparkly dresses, and heels singing the title song or interacting with the crowd.
Act I closes with Zaza singing an empowering rendition of I Am What I Am while Georges stands sadly off to the side. It’s the most famous song from the show and has become a gay anthem over the years. For me, it was great to finally see the song in the context of the show – when Albin discovers he’s being excluded from meeting his son’s future in-laws.
There is no doubt that the musical numbers drive the show, but its Georges and Albin’s relationship which is the heart of the musical. From the reprise of Song On The Sand to With You On My Arm, the love between the two characters is real and the affection is deep. Their relationship is layered with nostalgia and bickering like any old married couple. Burke and McKenney have easy on-stage chemistry which only aids in the realism of the partnership. I’m not sure I could imagine any other performers in the roles.
Masculinity is another number which was a highlight for me. Georges devises a plan to present Albin as Jean-Michael’s ‘Uncle Al’ and tries to teach him to be more butch. The comedy and improvised banter between Burke and McKenney is a credit to their talents. And I must add that I will never look at a croissant quite the same way again.
The supporting acts are also fabulous, with Les Cagelles, the chorus of gorgeous, glamorous drag queens commanding attention from the audience with their skimpy outfits and thought provoking musical numbers. Rhonda Burchmore plays restaurant owner Jacqueline who we simply don’t see enough of and Aljin Abella gives a stand-out performance as Jacob, Albin and Georges’ maid/butler who steals every scene he’s in. Gary Sweet plays the homophobic politician with Marg Downey as his wife. While both are favourites of mine and are great in their dual roles (also playing the cafe owners) I would have to say they are the weakest additions to the cast.
La Cage Aux Folles is a touching story with wonderful performances and fabulous cast. It’s on stage until December 7th at The Playhouse at Melbourne’s Art Centre and is not to be missed.
Book your tickets online through The Arts Centre Melbourne but hurry, they’re selling fast!
On a more personal note, after the show I hung around the stage door in the hopes of catching the stars. I was lucky enough to see Todd McKenney who is always a pleasure to chat to and every time I’ve met him happily takes the time to talk and sign programs. So thank you Todd!