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Review: La Cage Aux Folles at the Liverpool Empire ****

Ah, who wouldn’t want to be transported to the Cote d’Azur right now? It’s summer and there’s a chilled drink, a good book and a menu prix fixe waiting.

But it’s not all kirs and kindness it seems if La Cage Aux Folles is anything to go by.

Middle-aged couple Georges (Adrian Zmed) and Albin (John Partridge) live in niggling harmony in St Tropez where the former runs the glitzy gilt-and-flock drag club La Cage, and the latter is its temperamental star turn, Zaza.

When Georges’ son from an earlier fling arrives to tell them he’s getting married to the daughter of a hard-line political bigot and his downtrodden wife, who are coming to visit and Zaza needs to make herself scarce, it’s the signal for all kinds of mayhem and misunderstanding, and not a little sadness, heart-searching and lesson learning to boot.

The action unfolds against a backdrop of exuberant colour, campness, outrageous behaviour – take Samson Ajewole’s Amazonian butler/maid Jacob who is a gloriously over the top, cross-dressing hoot – and some great song and dance numbers, particularly on the stage of La Cage.

Georges (Adrian Zmed) and Albin (John Partridge) Photographs by Pamela Raith Photography

And frankly, when does a line of tap dancing, high-kicking drag queens NOT just make everyday life feel a little better and brighter?

At its heart is Partridge’s Albin/Zaza who isn’t simply the star of the Cage Aux Folles but also of the entire Bill Kenwright production.

It would be easy to make it feel all about the glitz and hissy fits, the frocks and wigs and big belting numbers, the Technicolor living. But he brings a real, very tangible and nuanced sense of pathos to the role - even on the giant impersonal Empire stage - as his character realises he’s being sidelined by a young man he brought up as his own son and is now ashamed of him.

His tender and powerful rendering of the show’s most iconic tune, I Am What I Am, is simply exquisite.

Zaza and Les Cagelles (Pamela Raith Photography)

Last night the number, which closes the first half with an emotional hand around the heart, came minutes after the sound desk crashed under all the sequin-clad exuberance – although when an apologetic techie in headpiece edged on to stage in the middle of the Can-Can we all wondered momentarily if could be part of the show.

But after coaxing, threatening or rebooting the offending piece of equipment they started from the top of choreographer Bill Deamer’s number with possibly even more energy and vivacity.

The hiatus also came after a period of Partridge/Zaza whipping up the Empire audience and cheeking the band with Joan Crawford-meets-Frank n Furter-meets panto dame banter, which in all honesty went on far too long and ground the storyline to an unnecessary and irritating halt.

But that's the only issue in a production that is a gloriously entertaining, thought-provoking, high-kicking, camptastic triumph.

La Cage Aux Folles runs until Saturday. Tickets from the website HERE.

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