Apparently, Jonathan Ross is taking over the role of Edna Turnblad in Hairspray.
Sounds potty doesn’t it? And you were shocked when you read it. And it’s not true. Well, we suppose it could be true; and if it is, just remember you read it here first.
Anyway, the point is that numb disbelief was pretty much the Whingers’ sole reaction when they heard that Graham Norton was taking over the role of Albin in La Cage Aux Folles from the sublime Douglas Hodge.
Despite having hated its first incarnation at the Menier Chocolate Factory, the production became an instant all-time favourite when the Whingers saw it with Hodge and now they feel strangely protective of it. Can Norton really carry it off or will his dragging up drag the show back down again?But before that, let us acknowledge some people whose contributions were omitted in the Whingers’ previous review of the show:
- Les Cagelles are unbelievably good, funny and breathtakingly physical. On Tuesday night two of them were played by understudies/swings – the wonderfully named Matt Krzan played Hanna and the wonderfully named Scott Spreadbury played Chantal. Indeed, Tuesday saw a whole McCutcheon of understudies (Jacob being played by Nolan Frederick) but none of it mattered a jot which must surely be the sign of a solid production.
- Iain Mitchell is perfect as the right wing moralist Edouard Dindon and we should have mentioned it last time. Sorry.
- Stuart Neal (as Jean Michel) has a lovely voice – he makes the lightweight “With Anne On My Arm” quite charming.
Norton can’t really quite sing and is sometimes almost excruciating to watch on the big notes and on Tuesday he played leap-frog with the orchestra causing them to slow down or chase to catch up at times in “I Am What I Am”
But this was only his third performance (and that’s counting the one where he stood in at the last minute for Hodge and his indisposed understudies) and, do you know what, he was surprisingly good. Actually, he was better than that.
He lacks confidence in the first half, but whatever it is that scares him (presumably “I Am What I Am”) is over by Act 2 when he relaxes a bit. He particularly gets into his stride when he’s impersonating Jean Michel’s dowdy mother.
Funnily enough we sometimes got the impression that he was trying too hard not to be Graham Norton. Some of the weaker bits were when he – as ZaZa – did some banter with the audience. This is the kind of thing that Norton can do standing on his head but here he seemed very uncomfortable.
If you’re expecting him to be so Graham Norton you’ll be surprised: he acts the role rather well and despite cavils about his singing performs “I Am What I Am” very movingly indeed. His triumphant “wig-off ” at the end of “The Best of Times” is hilarious.
When he storms off through the auditorium and into the street in full slap at the end of the first act, there was a huge laugh from those in the stalls who caught the expression of a startled passer-by outside the theatre.
As somebody just the other side of the river would say, this is something of a work in progress. But we hope Norton defeats his demons. He clearly doesn’t need the money and he’s clearly pushing himself outside his comfort zone. Of course, that’s not a good enough reason to pay to go and see a show but strangely (and despite the fact that neither Whinger is a particular fans of Norton) we found ourselves rooting for him. The rest of the audience were clearly behind him too, and didn’t appear to go home disappointed. He could end up being very, very good indeed. And even if he doesn’t this production clearly has an amazing resilience to it.
By the way, do you want to pre-book your programmes and ice creams? Phil was invited to when he booked the tickets.
* We’re a bit scared that we might keep going back to this show like those crazy people with no taste who have seen Wicked or Rent or Jersey Boys 47 times. But if you’re feeling down and in need of some big-hearted theatrical therapy, La Cage is still the place to go.