After so many fantastic musicals during his time as director at the venue, Tim Sheader’s final revival at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre deserves acclaim. The much-loved 1983 piece is produced with, well, lots of love. Clearly close to many hearts, the staging is carefully crafted, Sheader’s work impeccable and the audience reaction euphoric.
La Cage Aux Folles is undoubtedly effective – but it is simple. The book by Harvey Fierstein is a model of clarity. Yet the story of drag queen Albin and his partner Georges’ child getting married doesn’t take much time. And although each of Jerry Herman’s songs are hits (not just I Am What I Am), there really aren’t that many tunes.
So, the strength of the production comes with the performances at the eponymous cabaret. Stephen Mear’s choreography is fantastic, the performers acrobatic, and Ryan Dawson Laight’s costumes accomplished (with some lovely nods to the 1970s setting). It wouldn’t be surprising if members of this chorus – or ‘Cagelles’ – each had a show.
This is not to detract from the leads, from whom Sheader has secured strong comic performances. Billy Carter plays Georges and has the night club host patter down well. Carl Mullaney’s experience as a cabaret host also shows with his confident Albin. Whenever either has a microphone in hand (nice touch) there is fun. Mention should also be made of Ben Culleton, as their son Jean-Michel, who impresses with a fine voice and great dancing (with Sophie Pourret).
Behind-the-scenes action sometimes feels a little lost in the space. Seeing the Cagelles from the other side of the curtain is a nice idea (and it gives Hemi Yeroham a chance to shine as a stage manager), but you can’t help wondering if it’s all to help with costume changes. That said, the changes of outfits are worth it, and the stage needs to be big to accommodate dance scenes that release a real sense of euphoria.
Private moments suffer from a similar problem – it sometimes feels that the show might be better in a more intimate location. Georges and Albin’s romance convinces but seems small next to the big numbers. Maybe the change of scale is a sweet observation of its own? Along with their son, there is a palpable sense of care and closeness that is touching. La Cage Aux Folles has a simple message about family (hopefully one we’ve all now learned) and it makes it powerfully enough to get the audience up on its feet.
Until 23 September 2023
Photos by Johan Persson