Review – La Cage aux Folles at the Menier Chocolate Factory

Wednesday 28 November 2007

WEW mask La Cage Aux FollesAndrew had a bit of a health scare this morning until he remembered that he had eaten beetroot at the Menier Chocolate Factory‘s restaurant last night.

It would have made a fitting theme for the review given that the first three previews of La Cage aux Folles were cancelled due to “cast illness” and consequently last night’s West End Whingers outing was unwittingly to see the first preview. Chest infections, apparently. There’s rather a lot of it about at the moment: Phil has been struggling with something rather nasty for several weeks and he isn’t just talking about Andrew’s new eau de toilette.

Anyway, it was reported yesterday that:

Playbill.com has learned that [Douglas] Hodge, who plays the role of gay lover Albin opposite Philip Quast’s George, is still suffering from a chest infection. Understudy Spencer Stafford will step in to Hodge’s role for the Nov. 27 performance.

Well, the West End Whingers heard it suggested last night that the situation is much worse than has been reported. Amputation in fact: that Douglas Hodge and the production have become detached from each other. But it’s probably not true and if it isn’t true, you certainly didn’t hear it from us. Facts are not our forte. But if it does turn out to be true, you heard it here first.

So Spencer Stafford it was.

Anyway, spirits were high. The Whingers and entourage were confident of une bonne soirée when they turned up en masse at the La Cage Aux Folles. Yes it was their largest group outing yet, topping even Hairspray with more than 20 people anxious to see Terry Johnson’s new production and to not have Phil spill wine all over them. The usual suspects were there including City Slicker, Helen Smith, Sue Knox. Newcomers to the entourage included John Morrison and spouse (who left in the interval ostensibly due to John’s coughing – the Menier is positively diseased), Paul in London and even the marvellous Myra Sands, above (who we forgot to quiz about this).

But it seemed that so much organisational responsibility had opened up Andrew’s closet and out stepped his inner fuhrer.

Andrew decided that everyone in their party should wear Whingers-branded name badges, and over a nut roast in the Menier’s restaurant Phil was instructed to help Andrew assemble said badges. Seeing that Andrew was having one of his Mussolini days, Phil acquiesced and their table soon began to resemble something from the scandal-ridden Blue Peter.

Now it has been oft reported by the Whingers how much they loathe unallocated seating and especially the scrum to get in (right). But with such a huge troupe to corral (even with badges and Andrew’s Adolph alter ego in full flow) the entourage found themselves scattered around the Menier auditorium.

Andrew was obliged to remain outside in his jack-boots in order to greet the late-comers, Phil attempted (he claims) to save him a seat at a stage-side table. But someone insisted on taking Andrew’s chair. Phil knew there would be trouble and warned the punter “on your hands be it” (the wine had flowed, of course) and sure enough as Andrew finally arrived to take his seat having given up on a no-show (you know who you are) he intimidated the punter with a glower so chilling it dropped the temperature several degrees in the overheated Menier auditorium.

Making up somewhat for missing out on his Broadway debut in Xanadu, Andrew got his seat.

Are you waiting for us to get on about the show? Are we being even more tangential than usual? Well, there’s a dilemma really.

On the one hand (as in that famous phrase “on your own hand be it”) this is the first preview of a production in dire health, plagued by illness with an understudy taking on one of the lead roles.

On the other hand, we didn’t book for a first preview and we paid up our money just like the people who will see it next week and the week after and the week after that (should it run that long).

We understand that this dilemma is called “conscience”.

So we’ll go off on another tangent while we think about it some more.

This was Phil’s third La Cage. Naturally (or unnaturally is more like it) he’s old enough to have seen the original Broadway version, but his most memorable time was certainly the London Transport Players‘ amateur production.Today it’s hard to believe that this very traditional (it’s Jerry Herman, for heaven’s sake!) musical centred around a gay couple – Georges the manager of a Saint Tropez nightclub and his drag star partner Albin – was considered rather daring in its day. But to centre a large scale Broadway show on a gay couple in 1983 with AIDS just beginning to enter the public conciousness looks almost foolhardy now. The fact that it was a huge hit, especially when you can’t afford to offend a mainstream Broadway audience is even more remarkable.

It was helped by winning 6 Tony awards and beating Sondheim’s ground breaking Sunday in the Park with George (recently also revived at the Menier) and thanks to the hit song, “I am what I am” given classic disco treatment by Gloria Gaynor. That it had been written by Jerry (Hello Dolly) Herman, with a book by Harvey Fierstein and was based on the hit 1978 film of the same name and that it was also rather good helped.

But what of this production?

Well, we have decided it would be unfair to be too unkind. Let’s just say that it isn’t ready to go before an audience. We won’t use the words “chaotic” or “car crash” or “pig’s ear” or anything like that. Because.

Poor Spencer Stafford is too young for the role really and seemed, understandably, as under-rehearsed as the rest of the cast, but he did get his moment of glory with the anthemic “I am what I am” which closes the first act.

Things did get better after the interval, The cast and especially Stafford who can certainly sing well, seemed to have acquired a new confidence. Had Andrew been coaching them in the interval?

Returning after the (very generous) intermission, Andrew reverted to fuhrer mode insisting that Keith swap places with him as Keith had shared a moment at our table with the delightful Una Stubbs (Mme. Dindon in the show) before the interval and Andrew had been insanely jealous.

And so it went on, Andrew got his wish and became part of the show even receiving a kiss on the hand and later a neck massage from Philip Quast (Georges) and having Quast whisper something in his ear that cannot be reprinted in a family blog: “Which one of them (Les Cagelles) would you like to f***?” which seemed a bit unnecessary.

“The Best of Times” (a song for which Herman clearly couldn’t be bothered to come up with any verses) went down very well.

One of the best things about the Menier is that the cast have to come through the bar to go home and the Whingers were delighted that Una (as we call her) insisted on preserving her moment with the Whingers for posterity. She even gave the hand thing a go.

In the end the Whingers actually had une very bonne soirée but – as is often the case – it was very much of their own special creation.

Footnote

As the season a for theatrical cross-dressing gears up (but that’s enough of Andrew’s festive plans) the Menier Chocolate Factory has high-kicked off ahead of the crowd with a revival of La Cage aux Folles which caused Phil to ponder on why so many recent hit musicals have featured drag: Hairspray, Chicago, The Producers, Little Shop of Horrors and Wicked have all featured drag. Ok, so Wicked doesn’t actually feature it, it just is a drag. The Whingers had (rather unusually) loved all these shows (apart from Wicked, obviously). What could the reason have been? They just couldn’t put their evening gloved fingers on it.

Credits

Thanks to: Myra, Maz, Mark, David, Helen, John, Penny, Liz, Oliver, Sue, Ricky, Lynne, Keith, Keith’s friend, Sharon
Katy and Lauren for making it a splendid evening.

13 Responses to “Review – La Cage aux Folles at the Menier Chocolate Factory”

  1. daveonthego Says:

    It was a lot of silly nonsense with some great songs. I had a lovely time. Una Stubbs was wonderful as was the chorus and the maid. You don’t believe me just ask Helga from Hamburg! I loved the can can number. Clearly needs some work but who can complain in such an intimate venue and at only £20. Thanks Whingers! I’ve got a smile on my face.

  2. Helen Smith Says:

    I loved it, I really did.

    I must admit, I’m very fond of the film. But what we were presented with at The Menier last night was effectively a show within a show: There were wardrobe malfunctions, scenery malfunctions, last-minute cast changes and – that most thrilling and classic of all showbiz tales – when the leading man was unable to go on, the understudy stepped up and did a brilliant job.

    There was as much drama off-stage as on and the scene was set when that condescending fellow ambled in five minutes before the start of the show and – with a sense of entitlement peculiar to middle class theatre-going audiences – decided he would rather sit in Andrew’s seat than in any one of the places available elsewhere. From our position at the back of the auditorium, we were on the edge of our seats until the matter was finally settled in Andrew’s favour.

    Meanwhile, behind me, two twats made schoolboyish snoring sounds whenever ‘I am what I am’ was sung on stage. Yes, I know it has become something of a drag act cliche but it IS in the show. Jeez, if you don’t like it, blog about it! Anyway, their disapproval put me very firmly on the side of the cast.

    I loved the set and the scene changes, I loved the cast, I loved the musicians (real live musicians!) squashed up in the eaves in that claustrophobic, hot auditorium.

    I loved Philip Quast’s voice but even more than that I loved his urbane/world-weary/witty wave (so much conveyed by four fingers and a thumb – now, that’s acting) when the curtain failed to come down properly on the final scene.

    Una Stubbs was enchanting, Jason Pennycooke (as the butler) was supremely talented, Spencer Stafford was wonderful. If Debbie Reynolds herself had been asked to put on Douglas Hodge’s wigs and costumes and play Albin last night, I doubt she could have done a better job.

    All in all, a lovely evening, thanks xx


  3. As to the casting situation, I quote direct from the press release: “During rehearsals Mr Hodge contracted a chest infection which resulted in bronchitis across both lungs and caused a severe bronchospasm. He hopes to return to the production in mid-December.” Official press night is now 9th January.

    First preview or no though, I wish I’d been there, sounds like a fab night…

  4. he of Xanadu on stage seating Says:

    I am convinced this production is going to get better and better with time. Mark my words…….Philip Quast was amazing and I am sure Mr Hodge will be too.
    Hopefully, they can fix the dodgy curtain in time for opening night as well……I never liked a fourth wall.

  5. Paul Says:

    I would like to see more groping by Philip Quast of the front row audience… Whispering sweet nothings or grabbing shoulders and wiping faces is just too tame… Something to work on during the previews I think…

  6. JohnnyFox Says:

    I was also touched, literally, by Philip Quast’s performance, It must be the first time I’ve ever been flirted with by a man in quite such a cheap evening suit since I last frequented a Locarno Ballroom.

    LCAF apparently attracted a standing ovation at this afternoon’s matinee – but I doubt whether the Whinger-dominated audience could have leapt to its collective arthritic feet had Liza Minelli herself been playing Zaza and produced a kipper from her fanny as an encore …

    But a lovely evening, to be sure, and thanks for the after-show vino. John xx


  7. Thanks Johnny.

    Your review is probably more what we would have come up with had we not suffered this attack of “conscience” about the whole thing.

    But you paid your money just like the other saps (e.g. us) in the audience so you are entitled to bitch.

    In fact, we’re beginning to think we’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere along the line. We’ve gotten soft and thanks for pulling us up on that. It won’t happen again.

  8. Webcowgirl Says:

    Oh, Jesus, JohnnyFox just made me spit tea all over myself.

  9. Jamesfg Says:

    I love going to the chocolate factory! Fantastic Shows in such a intimate venue.

    The only down side was the audience was too reserved, if any show deserved a standing ovation this is it but no-one stood when I saw it!

    Can’t wait for a west-end transfer (fingers crossed), but it might loose it’s magic.

    THIS IS A MUST SEE!


  10. Well Douglas Hodge is now performing and a very surprising performance it was too !! Ok I still can’t get over the tacky venue and surroundings and it certainly lacked the glitz and glamour that the show should surely have. I don’t think venues such as this should get above themselves and try to stage full scale musicals that surely it was meant to be. BUT it was a very entertaining afternoon and there were some excellent performances. The leads deserve a stage big enough for their talent and this is not the venue for this show. But full marks for the inventive use of the very limited space. But St Tropez this never was !!!

  11. rhonda Says:

    Oh dear David Kingman, “tacky venue and surroundings; …venues such as this shouldn’t get above themselves” – where have you been hanging out for the last few years…..

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