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La Cage Aux Folles review at New Wimbledon Theatre, London – ‘blissful, razor-sharp choreography’

La Cage Aux Folles. Photo: Pamela Raith La Cage Aux Folles. Photo: Pamela Raith
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This Broadway musical, based on a French stage farce, caused a revolution when it first premiered in 1983. A family entertainment that put onstage a credible, long-term gay relationship and the family they have created around them (including raising a son), without apology but with plenty of laughs and lavish scenery, was a radical idea then. Nowadays, happily, legal gay marriage and families are a fact of life. Seeing the show again reminds you just how far we’ve come, but also how bold this portrait remains.

It was refreshing to see this new touring production being embraced so warmly by an audience of all stripes, types and ages at a crowded mid-week matinee. But then Martin Connor’s staging gets the tone and rhythm absolutely right. It delivers the show with the exact measures of affection and affectation required, from Bill Deamer’s blissful, razor-sharp period floorshow choreography to Gary McCann’s glorious fin de siecle inspired sets that are as much Las Vegas as they are French Rivera.

Musical director Mark Crossland also makes his modest seven-piece band sound much larger, giving heft to Jerry Herman’s brassy, tuneful score and witty lyrics. “We import the drinks that you buy / So your Perrier is Canada Dry” goes one, and if John Partridge’s adoption of a Lancastrian accent as Albin/Zaza suggests they may be serving Eccles cakes rather than croissants in the street cafe he and his partner Georges frequent, Partridge sings I Am What I Am with resounding force and passion. Adrian Zmed has a twinkly charm and sincerity as Georges, and there’s also a lovely, warm performance from veteran Marti Webb as Jacqueline. But the show belongs, as ever, to the high-kicking troupe of seven male and two female Cagelles.

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A modern Broadway classic packs a powerful punch all over again.