‘What was hilariously camp has a depressing vulgarity’ – La Cage aux Folles

This musical adaptation by Harvey Fierstein and Jerry Herman of the original French film (and Hollywood remake) retains its tunefulness and lyrically adroit songs but loses some of the spangled sophistication in Timothy Sheader’s production.

It is the story of an ageing gay couple Georges (Billy Carter) and Albin (Carl Mullaney) who have to recalibrate their sexuality when Georges’ straight son Jean-Michel (Ben Culleton) invites the ultra-conservative parents of his fiancee to meet ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’.

What was hilariously camp has a depressing vulgarity about it here – more Scarborough than St Tropez. The songs are still fabulous, though, and the well-drilled flamboyance of Stephen Mears’ choreography would do credit to the all-male ballerinas of The Trocks.

The singing is variable, though Mullaney – a combination of Divine and Mae West in full drag regalia – is powerfully equipped, lung-wise, and delivers the queer anthem I Am What I Am with moving potency.

His reflection on ageing, (A Little More) Mascara, subtly recalls Lady Wishfort’s lament in Congreve’s The Way of the World “I look like an old peeled wall”.

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Culleton has a Charlie Stemp-like presence and sings well though the chemistry between him and his inamorata is next to zero in a production that has little emotional engagement.

The nightclub set is beautifully designed and the band punches well above its weight but the glamour has evaporated along with the pathos of the original.

La Cage aux Folles, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre until September 16 Tickets: 0333 400 3562

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