Review by Carly Fisher
Amongst all the glitz and glam of the nightclub scene in Paris, the setting for La Cage Aux Folles, lies a love story that has continued to entertain and endear audiences for the last 40 years since it first hit the Broadway stage. Currently playing a very short stint at the State Theatre in Sydney with an all star cast led by Paul Capsis and Michael Cormick, this production of La Cage Aux Folles features great choreography, a mostly strong ensemble and a lot of heart.
At the centre of this wonderfully camp musical is a familiar trope - 2 kids want to get married and so it is therefore time for their parents to meet. Though the idea of a meet-the-in-laws dinner has been well covered in all forms of entertainment, La Cage was certainly progressive at its 1983 Broadway opening by showing a Gay couple as one set of the parents. Seeing this musical for the first time in 2023, it is amazing to watch and consider how many more modern musicals have clearly used this original for inspiration in creating similar scenes and discussing similar themes. It is a musical that has lasted the ages because of its spirit and its story.
That said, has the musical aged well? Thankfully, not really. Not because of the show itself, but because the world around it has changed enough that things that were once considered, as I mentioned, progressive, or shocking - such as two men kissing on stage - really are a very normalised part of our 2023 world, and thank gosh for that! Despite the missing ‘shock value’ that I think the original would have had, it was great to finally get to see this classic musical and to place the iconic songs that came from it in context. For a musical lover like myself, this felt like an important musical to tick off the ‘must see’ bucket list.
The State, though one of the most grand venues in Sydney, seems not to be the easiest to use for musicals and this production did seem to fall trap to that. Without the benefit of a set equally grand to its host venue, the production elements quickly look small or, dare I say, cheap. Whilst the costumes were well designed and executed by Jozef Koda, the set did not pack the same punch. A single fold out chair and table to represent a sidewalk Parisian cafe felt haphazard, a crooked family photo felt last minute, and 2D replica statues did not achieve the comedic purpose I imagine they were intended for. Though the talented band (under the musical direction of Craig Renshaw) was given a suitable stage and elegant curtains surrounding them, the rest of the set left me disappointed and relishing for a set elegant and camp to match the musical itself.
Opening Night was definitely subject to some sound troubles and missed mic cues but impressively, even without the benefit of amplification at times, the cast just seemed to make it work! Special shout out here has to go to Lucia Mastrantone who seemed to battle her mic throughout and instead took it all in her stride to deliver an outlandishly ‘extra’ performance filled with detailed characterisation and strong comedic timing in both of her roles.
Playing deeply into the campness of the production, the choreography by Veronica Beattie George was a definite standout. Chloe Malek as Anne’s twirling entrances and exits in and out of every scene were a clear audience favourite and whilst I wish we had heard/seen more of this character, whenever Malek did make an appearance, the fluidity in her movement and lightness in her characterisation made her dance prowess shine clearly.
Noah Mullins as Jean-Michel was a definite stand out for me. A gorgeous voice paired with a strong ability as both a dancer and excellent dance partner, Mullins proved himself one to watch. I’ll be looking out to see what he is in next - he would make an excellent lead character in a myriad of musicals and I hope we get to see a lot more of him on our Sydney stages.
The Les Cagelles performers all gave a strong performance. There was a unity in the group that gave you the sense that this group may be just tight-knit off stage too, which is always nice to see.
Unfortunately not all of the Ensemble was as strong and whilst this was easily hidden in Act 1, Act 2, with the introduction of the in-laws, made the large disparity in cast ability overly prevalent. Peter Phelps as the father particularly struck a nerve for me, yelling his entire performance. I hope that as the show continues its run and tour, this performance is mellowed out a bit. Whilst this character is clearly not written to be liked, the script takes care of that already and so by over-playing the character’s lack of like ability due to his conservative ways, Act 2 became somewhat of a caricature of Act 1 and honestly, a lot less enjoyable to watch. Whether this was an intentional choice of Director Riley Spadaro or not, with nothing at all to like about the in-laws, namely Anne’s father, the stakes were so low that Act 2 dragged for much too long.
Of course, a huge portion of the audience is there to see Capsis as Albin and Cormick as Georges, the show’s leads. Cormick surprised me honestly and as Georges, I thoroughly enjoyed his performance. I will admit that I went in with high expectations for Capsis and whilst I am not sure that they were all met, I appreciated seeing Capsis relish in playing a character that obviously means a lot to him.
As a musical, if I’m totally honest, La Cage is repetitive, with 4 or so songs having so many reprises it became surprising when there was a totally new tune. That said, the lyrics of these songs are beautiful and poignant and the song that Georges sings to John-Michael about recognising where love comes from and what sacrifice looks like is just stunning. Whilst ‘I am what I am’ is the well known banger from this musical, that song, ‘Look Over There’, was the one I left running to spotify to hear again.
The poignancy of this show being on in Sydney, the home of World Pride in 2023, on its 40th anniversary is not lost on me. Though I did leave the theatre underwhelmed by the production I’d just seen, I left exceptionally grateful too - grateful that this show is no longer considered shocking or progressive or anything more than the beautiful story of love and acceptance over all that it is.