One of the most rewarding parts about this gig is when you sit down to watch a show and, 2 hours later, feel genuinely privileged to have sen the production on stage. This applies even more so, when you're watching the show for the second time in the same run - and still get the same emotion, feelings and experience that you did first time round!
The current UK tour of La Cage Aux Folles has stopped of at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre and it's showing no signs of slowing!
'La Cage' is a musical with written by Harvey Fierstein with lyrics and music by Jerry Herman. Based on the 1973 French play of the same name by Jean Poiret, it focuses on a gay couple: Georges (Adrian Zmed, Grease 2), the manager of a Saint-Tropez nightclub featuring drag entertainment, and Albin (John Partridge, Chicago), his romantic partner - and the clubs star attraction. The story follows the farcical adventures that ensue when Georges's son, Jean-Michel (Dougie Carter, Les Miserables), brings home his fiancée's ultra-conservative parents to meet them.
The first piece in the 'wow factor' jigsaw is the staging of the show. This stage is smaller than the first stage I saw the show on - but that causes no issues. Exquisitely positioned on a beautiful set, Gary McCann has excelled himself in bringing glamour and glitz to Wolverhampton; an achievement only mirrored by Mark Crossland's interpretation of the shows musical score, adding another layer of orchestral marvel to the music accompanying the action from the performers.
As with any show like this, you have to have absolute and complete investment from your cast in both the characters and the story. Just as you can't have The Rocky Horror Show without skimpy leather and fishnets, you can't have La Cage without drag and sequins. Something which the cast not only delivered on but also appeared to relish in.
This show is about so much more than the big show-stopping song and dance numbers. At it's heart it's a sentimental story of overcoming adversity, standing up for yourself and appreciating family and the love they bring, whatever their make up. Zmed, in his first ever UK role, excels as Georges. Very much stuck in the middle of things, he plays the part of the father figure with conviction and an air of professionalism that is more than qualified by his career to date.
In somewhat of a supporting part - which is such a shame - Marti Webb takes the role of Jacqueline, the owner of a local restaurant. Webb has a back catalogue of roles, most iconically in Andrew Lloyd Webber's 'Tell Me On A Sunday', which even the most seasoned performer would be jealous of. The consummate professional, she commands the stage with a sass that any budding Albin would be proud of! That said, Webb does class herself as 'semi-retired', so the chance to have a more relaxed role without the show resting on her shoulders is, perhaps, welcomed.
Talking of Albin - it's fair to say John Partridge absolutely steals the show from the minute he makes his entrance. Fresh from playing Billy Flynn in the UK tour of Chicago, Partridge has stage presence, comic timing and a vocal ability which sets him apart from so many of his contemporaries. After his show stopping performance of the shows iconic number; 'I Am What I Am', it was one of the most richly deserved bouts of applause I've seen in recent years.
As I intimated at the start of the piece - the first time I saw this show was near the start of the tour and the Wolverhampton dates come closer to the end of the run. However Partridge has lost none of his charisma, energy and passion for the role and still brings a powerhouse performance to the Black Country.
John really is the star of this show. His ability is clear to see and, although prominent, it doesn't appear overbearing. Zmed is a decent match for our lead and an actress of Webb's calibre more than holds her own in scenes where they're pitched together. What's also lovely to see is the cast - but in particular Partridge - look so grateful for the audience response at the end of the show. Never have I heard a crowd roar with such anticipation - which was very, VERY well deserved.