Dear Abby, I've been to the theatre to see a show with lots of men dressed up as women, and now I'm feeling thoroughly confused. I'm worried that my feelings will turn me into a member of a despised and persecuted minority. Is this unhealthy?
Dear John, You're obviously another of those weird perverts who didn't enjoy La Cage Aux Folles. Stop wasting my time, lighten up and get over it. If all else fails, have a cold shower.
I'm the first to admit I'm not a great fan of musicals, though once or twice a year I take the plunge. I'm not completely immune to the magic effect of a great song hitting the audience right in the solar plexus. Hannah Waddingham singing Send In The Clowns in A Little Night Music or Clive Rowe singing Sit Down You're Rocking The Boat in Guys and Dolls have exactly the same effect on me as on anyone else. So why was I the only person in the Playhouse Theatre who gave a silent cheer of relief when La Cage Aux Folles ended, rather than joining in the standing ovation?
Perhaps I was misled by reading Michael Coveney's perceptive interview with the show's original creators Jerry Herman (music) and Harvey Fierstein (book) in the programme. Although both are what Coveney describes as 'out-gay Broadway superstars', Herman looks back to the original production as just another show, while Fierstein sees it as a historic statement about gay liberation. 'This show is very special to me. We lost half the cast of the first production to AIDS and the whole Broadway Fights AIDS campaign was originated in that period of the show.' The emotional resonance of the show comes -- or should come -- from the idea that people stop pretending to be something that they aren't. The problem with this revival, which began its life at the Menier Chocolate Factory and will transfer to Broadway next April, is that the original theme has been entirely lost. I went to the original production by Terry Johnson at the Menier when it was still in previews, thought it was thoroughly undercooked, and left at the interval. But the show's subsequent West End success made me curious to see it again before the end of its London run. What seems to have happened is that the message of the show has been buried under layers of crude gags. Characterisation has gone out of the window, the emotional impact is entirely missing, and it's played entirely for laughs. I'm not bothered at all by whether the show attains some imaginary level of political correctness, and I think gay men should be laughed at like anyone else. But I wasn't charmed, I wasn't shaken, I wasn't stirred. It's a freak circus, the gay equivalent of the Black and White Minstrel Show. La Cage has become part of that great British stage tradition, the Christmas pantomime. Douglas Hodge is a great actor but he hams up the role of Albin something rotten. Try to imagine the late Les Dawson playing Widow Twankey, and you'll get the idea. Barry Humphries as Dame Edna has a lot more charm. It doesn't help that Gabriel Vick (Jean-Michel) is the only member of the cast who has a really good singing voice.
I never saw the original Broadway production and don't know the social context that helped make it such an extraordinary phenomenon. But I'm wondering how this version of the show (Douglas Hodge will star opposite Kelsey Grammer) will go down with New York audiences. Last night I was sitting next to two Americans, who left at the interval. I can't help feeling that while London audiences love it, it may fall flat on its face on Broadway, where the punters may be expecting something closer to Fierstein's original vision.