Arts & Entertainment
2 min

Good campy fun

La Cage aux Folles combines drag, gay anthems and inspirational messages

Matthew Baker stars in La Cage aux Folles. Credit: Keith Pollard
Long before Hairspray spritzed itself all over Broadway, and years prior to Priscilla’s tuneful bus ride, there was one big, gay musical to rule them all: La Cage aux Folles. It was 1983, and things were not terribly gay on the Great White Way, what with the spectre of AIDS and an emerging religious right fanning the flames of homophobia. 
With mass-appeal hits like Dreamgirls and Cats pulling in big crowds, the prospect of producing a musical about a gay nightclub owner and his drag queen husband seemed a decidedly daunting one – even with theatrical homo heavyweights Harvey Fierstein, composer Jerry Herman and director Arthur Laurents backing the project. But with a loveable, upbeat storyline and instant-classic songs like “The Best of Times” and “I Am What I Am,” La Cage gorged itself on record box-office sales and numerous awards. 
The musical is an English adaptation of a French play of the same title, written by Jean Poiret, and features many of the same plot devices. Most of the action takes place within and above La Cage aux Folles, a drag nightclub in St Tropez owned by Georges and his self-styled “wife,” Albin. 
As the club’s star performer, Albin is deliciously flamboyant and prone to hilarious bouts of hysteria. Georges treasures his partner but is embarrassed to introduce him to his son Jean-Michel’s soon-to-be in-laws. When Jean-Michel asks his gay parents to butch it up for his fiancée’s uptight family, Albin is horrified at Georges’ acquiescence and plans a drag rebellion that leaves jaws (and illusions) dropped to the floor.
It’s good, campy fun with an inspirational message of acceptance and family – and always fun for both performers and audiences alike. It also features one of the most over-the-top drag characters ever to grace a theatrical stage.
“I thought it would be the greatest challenge for me to play Albin,” says Peter Dixon, the force behind the Orion Theatre Company’s upcoming production of La Cage. Dixon and co-producer Heidi Stepanek have spent the last 10 years bringing some of Broadway’s biggest hits to Perth audiences. 
“We’ve tried to position ourselves with shows that are a little edgier than the average Rodgers and Hammerstein piece,” Dixon says. “We’ve done Cabaret, Rocky Horror, and last year we did The Full Monty.”
While we won’t get the chance to view the hunky Dixon pulling a full monty this time around, his company’s production of La Cage will still offer a veritable feast for the eyes with original costumes and dazzling sets. And then, of course, there’s the music. Herman’s songs are anthemic, hummable and inspiring – a perfect fit for Dixon’s rich tenor voice.
“Albin gets to sing such beautiful songs,” Dixon says. “The most powerful, of course, is ‘I Am What I Am,’ which really is the message of the whole show. It says, ‘This is who I am; take me or leave me. If you don’t like to see a man dressed in heels and a feather boa, too bad.’”

The Deets:

La Cage aux Folles
Myriad Centre for the Arts
1 Sherbrooke St E
Fri, April 13-Sun, April 29