REVIEW La Cage Aux Folles, Birmingham Hippodrome

010_La Cage Aux Folles_Pamela Raith Photography

Family, farce, and female impersonators — what’s not to love?

When Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein first dreamed up La Cage Aux Folles in the 1980s, they thought they were creating something of limited appeal. A musical comedy about a gay couple, one of whom is the star of a drag cabaret show, both of whom are loving parents to a son — this was the kind of love story that mainstream theatre audiences weren’t used to.

Fortunately for us, it became a huge success, leading to a film adaptation and then a beloved Hollywood remake, starring Nathan Lane and the late Robin Williams. It turns out that, gay or straight, nobody can resist a good show. And this new production lovingly restages the camp grandeur of the original, offering up a moving portrayal of a family that adores each other in between side-splitting laughs.

John Partridge is the undeniable star of the show as Albin, aka Zaza, the star attraction at La Cage Aux Folles. He makes the perfect drag queen; bitter and histrionic one moment, maternal and heart-breaking the next. Partridge’s patter with the audience during the nightclub scenes will leave you howling, and he shows off his impressive pipes in a handful of musical numbers which in turn demonstrate the character’s vulnerability and determined defiance; “A Little More Mascara,” and the unforgettable “I Am What I Am,” which since the show’s debut has become an international anthem of LGBT pride.

Equally charming is Adrian Zmed as club proprietor Georges, Albin’s longterm partner, who reluctantly agrees to go back into the closet for one night in order to please his son Jean-Michele, who is keen to impress new fiancée’s father. Monsieur Dindon, a deeply conservative politician, is all about extremely old-fashioned family values and intends to close every “transvestite bar” on the strip.

Needless to say, this news doesn’t go down well with Albin — or the equally dramatic butler/maid, Jacob (Samson Ajewole, in a scene-stealing role). The cabaret-infused musical shenanigans of the first act give way to a classic farce in the second, as the fusty soon-to-be in-laws come to dinner, and the young groom’s “mother” makes a surprise appearance…

Exuberantly entertaining from the very first moment, La Cage Aux Folles boasts stellar performances, toe-tapping songs, lavish costumes, and a beguiling supporting cast of showgirls — all topped off with a heart-warming and still relevant message about the importance of love and family in all their forms, that never feels false or preachy.

If this fictional nightclub is a cage, it’s one you’ll never want to leave.