Saturday, 8 November 2014

La Cage Aux Folles, Supa Productions, ANU Arts Centre

La Cage Aux Folles began as a French stage farce in the mid seventies, before turning into three French language films (the two sequels do seem to define "stupid sequel plotting"), an english language remake ("The Birdcage") and a grand splashy Broadway musical. With music from Big-Lady-supremo Jerry Herman and a script by Harvey Fierstein (fresh off Torch Song Trilogy), it combines French farce with American sentimentality, to surprisingly good effect.

It's rare enough for a musical to feature a mature-aged couple at the centre - let alone a long-term couple who are together at the beginning and end of the show. For all the glitz and glamour, what really works about La Cage is that core central relationship between nightclub owner Georges (Jarrad West) and drag performer Albin (Benjamin O'Reilly). Separately, they're charming  - West oozes Clooney-esque smoothness and gravitas (and a surprising wig, but then again, Georges is probably the kind of guy who'd toupee), while O'Reilly is hilarious, a real clothes-horse and adorably scatter-brained - but together, this lifts into something magical. Wherever the show around them is shaky (and there's a couple of shaky points), these two serve as a strong anchor to hold the show together. It does take until the fifth song when the two duet on "With you on my arm" for all these elements to come together, but once it does, the show bypasses a lot of your critical facilities, goes straight to your heart and stays there.

Elsewhere, there's a lot of good talent - the six "Les Cagelles" move well, and are dressed in increasingly glorious costumes (designed by Suzan Cooper), Greg Sollis provides some delgihtful cameos in the supporting cast, Alexander Clubb has enough charm for us to forgive his character for doing some fairly massively insensitive things, Fraser Findlay steals scenes with goofy aplomb and Barbara Denham is smooth and classy as deus ex machina Jaqueline. The Dindon family, the conservative nemeses of our two heroes, are fairly underwritten, but each sieze a moment or two to shine - Len Power has a great smug moment at the restraunt, Michelle Klemke has one moment of vocal outburst that's hilarious and a similarly fun dance moment later, and Tamina Koehne-Drube gets to show off a fine pair of dancing legs early in the show and looks genially charming later.

There are some first-night pacing problems meaning that this works better as sentimental comedy than as fast-paced farce, and some awkward noises coming out of the pit co-ordinated by Rose Shorney - hopefully these will be ironed out as the run continues - and some strange accent-soups being played among the cast - West, Clubb and Power are all mid Atlantic, O'Reilly is somewhat regionally UK, Klemke, Koene-Drube and Denham are French, and everybody else seems to pick one at random and goes with it (Sollis tries two different ones for his two cameos). The set design using multiple LED projectors works well for the most part in solving the problem of the ANU Arts centre's restrictive backstage, but is still a little pixel-ish, particularly for the screens closest to the audience.

Still, I think what an audience will take home is that this is a fun, sentimental, glamourous, sweet entertainment for an audience to gushingly enjoy. Plenty of quality giggles, some nice tunes to snuggle with your special someone in the audience, glitzy costumes and a whole lot of fun.

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