Arts / Birds of a feather glam up

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The boys in wigs, from left, Ben O’Reilly (red), Jake Willis (blue), Nathan Rutups (orange), David Santolin (pink) and hairdresser Charles Oliver. Photo by Gary Schafer.
The boys in wigs, from left, Ben O’Reilly (red), Jake Willis (blue), Nathan Rutups (orange), David Santolin (pink) and hairdresser Charles Oliver. Photo by Gary Schafer.
IT’S 11 o’clock in the morning and it’s champagne cocktail time at the hairdressing salon of Canberra theatre personality Charles Oliver as cast members from the coming musical “La Cage aux Folles” check out their make-up and hairdos for what promises to be the most outrageously over-the-top show of the season.

As Mr Charles fusses over the wigs, styled by Jeanice from Guerilla Hair (there are 30 of them in the show), director Garrick Smith chats about the musical he figures most people will know from “The Birdcage”, the Hollywood movie featuring Robin Williams.

“We like to describe ours as ‘The Birdcage’ with music,” he says.

With the spotlight on Georges (Jarrad West), manager of a St Tropez nightclub, and Albin (Ben O’Reilly), his partner and star drag performer “Zaza”, the twist on the “meet-the-family” motif, comes when Georges’ son brings home his fiancée’s ultra-conservative mum and dad, the latter a right wing anti-gay politician

Based on the 1973 play by Jean Poiret, it’s seen two versions on screen and was later picked up by composer Jerry Herman and writer Harvey Fierstein.

There are six “La Cage boys” on stage and the whole thing coincides with Canberra Pride’s celebration of queer culture in the Canberra region, “SpringOUT”, on whose committee O’Reilly sits.

“It shows a family in conflict and that’s pretty universal,” Smith says.

“How many children have looked at their parents and shaken their heads, and the same with parents? The only difference in this case is that it’s a gay family.”

The French play was very farcical but Smith tells “CityNews”: “I want to give it some heart, although it’s a farcical situation there is drama and pathos, too.”

Smith’s been considering whether to have Australian or American accents.

“It’s set in St Tropez – it’s an international play – and Aussies on the beach in St Tropez… that would seem funny,” he says.

The first production, he notes, was full of glitz but the Broadway revival in 2010, made it a bit shabbier.

“We are going back to the 1983 version,” Smith exults.

“It’s going to be a leggy show with lots of glitter.”

There’ll be a 24-piece orchestra, 12 singers in the pit from Michelle Klemke’s singing classes. The feathers have come from the US, the “stunning diamantes” from China and the wigs from Mr Charles.

As for the long-suffering wardrobe team, “I’m asking awful lot of these ladies,” Smith says.

“La Cage aux Folles”, ANU Arts Centre, November 7-22. Bookings to 6247 4442.

 

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