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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Playhouse


At the intermission of a performance of La Cage aux Folles, my wife turned to the young man sitting next to her and asked if he had seen this production before. “Yes,” he replied, “eight times.” Welcome to the world of the cult musical.
La Cage, originally a French play, was made into two movies, one French and one American, and a Broadway musical. The musical, with lyrics and music by Jerry Herman and a libretto by Harvey Fierstein, opened on Broadway in 1983, where it won six Tony awards and ran for four years. The current revival originated at the Menier Chocolate Factory, a small theatre on the South Bank in London that has gained a sizeable reputation for refurbishing old musicals, scaling them down while sharpening them up. It has been particularly successful with Stephen Sondheim material: The Broadway production of A Little Night Music with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angela Lansbury, for example, features the version that originated at the Menier.
The present London revival of La Cage opened at the Menier in early 2008 and moved to the West End a little over a year ago. The story, for those who somehow missed it, concerns two middle-aged gay men who run a nightclub on the Riviera. One, George, is the M.C., and the other, Albin, is the drag queen star of their show. This version has a smaller cast than the original Broadway show and is much more explicit sexually. Funny, raunchy and outrageous, it will open on Broadway in April with the Chocolate Factory star, Douglas Hodge, the man who originated the role of Albin, playing the part again.
As for the cult experience, it was clear when we entered the small lobby at the Playhouse that something was different. Instead of individual audience members streaming in, there were clusters of people who clearly knew each other, standing together engaged in animated conversation. Moreover, many of the young women were dressed to the hilt, in party dresses, which, unfortunately, is not the way theatre audiences dress these days on either side of the Atlantic. Clearly, this was an “occasion.”
Once the show was underway, the sense of awareness and alertness in the audience was palpable. Many seemed to know every line and every gesture of the performers. When there was a slight miscue midway in Act Two, audience members knew right away, and the actors knew that they knew. There was a shared camaraderie not often experienced in the theatre.
Though relatively rare, the cult stage musical is not an unheard of phenomenon. The original Hair and the original Rent, along with the current Broadway show Wicked, have all achieved cult status, with members of the audience knowing virtually every line in all of the songs, the latter learned either from CDs or repeated visits or both. For producers this is a real bonanza: better to sell eight tickets to one person rather than to eight different individuals. As for the repeat audience members, they become part of the cognoscenti: not just spectators but in their way, real participants. 


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