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Go see La Cage Aux Folles!

John Partridge, Adrian Zmed and Marti Webb star in this fabulous musical about a drag star and his partner playing it straight

Need a pick me up? I prescribe a big dose of La Cage Aux Folles – which opened this week at Brighton’s Theatre Royal. Get set for sequins, feathers, comedy, a feel-good message and some knock-out singing from the star cast. It’s part drag show, part unconventional love story and wow can those guys really sing!

It’s the first UK tour of this Tony and Olivier award-winning musical and it’s on for a two week run at Brighton so you have until Sun 26 Aug to catch it.

Pamela Raith photography

The St Tropez set comedy – originally written as a French play in the 1970s – concerns drag queen Albin and his partner, nightclub owner Georges. They attempt to cover up their flamboyant lifestyle, and their relationship, when their son announces his engagement to the daughter of a notoriously straight-laced politician. Of course, it all comes good but not before some fun – and some genuinely touching moments. You may have seen one of the musical’s  film outings, most recently as The Bird Cage starring Robin Williams.

Adrian Zmed (left) and John Partridge (Right). Pamela Raith photography

In this production John Partridge – best known for playing Christian Clarke in Eastenders and for judging TV talent show Over The Rainbow – plays Albin who is also star drag act Zaza at the famous La Cage aux Folles drag club. But this is not just a case of a soap star who can wear heels and hold a tune. Partridge already has a string of musical credits to his name including Cats and Chicago and he’s superb.

He plays Albin with a Northern English accent and has to carry him off as a drag star, a gay man, a gay man playing a straight man and a gay man playing a straight woman. Confusing right? Yet he slips between with ease, exaggerating and reining in mannerisms, often larger than life but at times delicate and vulnerable enough that he brought a tear to my eye. What really stands out however is his singing; he absolutely belts it and he has a great range.

Partridge and Zmed as Albin and Georges. Pamela Raith photography

Adrian Zmed who I remember as a hunky cop from 80s TV show TJ Hooker (showing my age there!) and the film Bachelor Party also has good stage credentials and he is excellent as Albin’s partner Georges who owns the nightclub and what do you know, he can really sing as well. He has several touching duets with Partridge.

The best known singer of course is Marti Webb, veteran of TV and the West End stage, best known for 80s hit  Take That Look off Your Face,  who plays the couple’s friend Jacqueline. She has a relatively small part but also went down well with the audience. More fun comes from stroppy butler/maid Jacob played by Samson Ajewole who towers in heels and has a lot of the best lines.

John Partridge with Marti Webb. Pamela Raith photography

The comedy is not only situation-based. In his drag persona Partridge interacts with the audience so at times it really does feel like you’re in a club. The actors and actresses go through multiple impressive wardrobe changes and the wigs have been created by Richard Mawbey – personal wig-maker to the likes of Kylie, Paloma Faith and Dame Edna Everage.

I’ve long loved the song I Am What I Am. This not only ends act one but is a repeated refrain thoughout. The iconic song has been covered by the likes of  Gloria Gaynor, Shirley Bassey and Tony Bennett, has become something of a gay anthem and was also used in the opening ceremony for the London 2012 Paralympics. Other catchy numbers includeThe Best of Times and Song on the Sand.

Pamela Raith photography

It’s unclear when this performance is set (the young engaged couple’s clothing is quite bizarre) but there are some contemporary gags in there about Tess Daly and Mammia Mia (also on in Brighton at the moment). The set up – of a child raised by loving gay parents temporarily denying them, may sit uncomfortably with a modern day audience but the portrayal of this relationship must have been pretty daring when the play was written and I was pleased to see rather than pure farce La Cage Aux Folle is also a love story.

“Amazing!” was my the verdict of my sister in law, who saw it with me.  Go on, treat yourself. You’ll have a ball.

La Cage Aux Folles is on at the Theatre Royal, Brighton daily until Sat 26 Aug with extra matinee performances on several days. Tickets are from £16.15. See atgtickets.com.

Pamela Raith photography

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