La Cage Aux Folles ★★★★ Regent's Park Open Air Theatre | Jul 29 - Sep 16, 2023

It's been 40 years since this buoyantly gay musical premiered on Broadway, and its themes still feel as fresh as ever, with some elements gaining new traction amid headlines about new laws prohibiting drag performances. A delightful mash-up of camp comedy, topical drama and razzle-dazzle musical numbers, this production has been scaled up at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, with a large cast of musical theatre experts who know how to keep the audience in the palm of their hand. Costumes and choreography continually dodge expectations, providing colour, laughs and bucket-loads of glittery spectacle. Whether throwing a jagged punchline or tugging at the heartstrings, this show is hugely entertaining, bringing some new relevance to Harvey Fierstein's snappy book and Jerry Herman's memorable songs. Billy Carter and a loveably scene-stealing Carl Mullaney find terrific chemistry as queer burlesque theatre manager Georges and his drag queen diva partner Albin. And there are plenty of moments of vicious wit and surging emotion as they try to reinvent themselves for the arch-conservative parents of the girl their son (the petulant-but-sweet Ben Culleton) plans to marry. Through all of this, a terrific company of dancers in inventively fresh costumes perform colourful numbers that get increasingly elaborate as the show progresses. They also create some indelible side characters who get moments all their own. And Mullaney's gorgeous mid-show rendition of I Am What I Am travels beautifully from wrenching emotion to triumphant anthem. So if a couple of the songs feel a little dull and the ending is oddly rushed, this is the kind of show that can send our spirits soaring with its joyful message about owning our identity and respecting the oddballs around us.

Rated: ★★★★

Reviewed by R.C.
Photo by Johan Persson

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