Monday, March 23, 2009

Graham Norton – Sing no more

You would have to be a special type of ole fag to get this reference to Noel Coward's beautiful song Sigh No More, but then you'd probably also be the very type who'd have a deep understanding of the world that Georges and Albin inhabit in La Cage aux Folles.

Grraham Norton's portrayal of Albin in said musical is nothing short of amateur musical society though to be fair to amateurs, rarely does one see such misused/miscast/missed-by-a-long-shot talent playing lead roles. Few sober karaoke renditions of I am what I am, so masterfully penned by Jerry Herman, have ever deviated so far from the score as Mr Norton's rendition at London's The Playhouse yesterday. If that were all (no reference to Coward's If love were all intended) and his singing contained some vibrato and shaped phrases and clear vocal projection, and if the role were executed with flair, elan and pazzazz, the voice might have got away with it. After all, who can forget those non-singer/dancers pulling it off in the quaint yet strangely execrable hit film Mama Mia last summer.

Grrraham's singing advanced the plot and reflected on poignant moments with such callous disregard for the plot, poignant moments, musicianship and the audience, that one can only wonder what the producers were thinking when they cast him in this role, one that the trained singer/dancer/actor would regard as the role of a lifetime. Anyone who wondered down memory lane may pass by a plethora of reasons for casting Grrrraham in this role but would inevitably arrive back at the box office. His name and fame are being exploited for box office gain, surely ... and at the audiences' expense and that on several levels. In another bout of fairness, not even I can deny that he looked wonderful in the frocks and makeup and wigs - the deaf theatregoer can only have been delighted with him! Get out of my way, Talent – who needs You?

To be fair to Mr Norton, he is quoted in the timesonline as saying

Truly, honestly, I have no ambition to inhabit this world permanently. Theatregoers can relax, I promise. I’ll do this one thing and then I’ll p*** off again.

Now if a talented lead happened to be on your agenda, and none fit your bill, you could always create a talent contest and broadcast it across the nation in which everyone in every county, in every riding, in every parish with a television and nothing better to do with their time could bask in the brutal elmination of talentless punters as the one diamond emerged from the merry-go-round of round after round until a real talent is found and the whole nation has casting couched itself for the sake of a failed Austrian nun who can turn curtains into clothes, a family of unsung children into a polyphonic chorus of goats, and a widower into a groom. Ahhh Maria, the most beautiful sound I ever heard, Maria.

This clever marketting ploy and admirably original use of the talent quest format also serves to ensnare the public. Ask ole widow Schnorton if she's seen the local musical society's Pirates yet and she's bound to ask who's in it? As the village postmistress, there will not be a name in town she doesn't know, but was she aware of their hidden talents? Did she know that the local butcher was butcher than all the pirates that snuck onto the coast of Penzance that night, or that the local constable truly believed that a policeman's lot is not a nappy one? These questions and more can be answered by getting oneself down to the local playhouse and seeing the very people from your quotidian life.

So if the global village is collecctively rooting for the next Maria, we all know and love the one who eventually gets the guernsey. Nobody need ask Who's in it I know?, as we all became intimate with her through the great medium of television. And the internet. We're hooked, lined and sinkered. This personal familiarity lies at the heart of local productions.

Such a pity then that the producers of La Cage didn't elect a more talent-based approach to casting it. Not one of yesterday's matinee cast is worth my bucks to see again. The only exception is one of the chorus boys who also chorused in London's The Producers a few years ago – a remarkably good singer and dancer, with a magnificent physique and exquistely handsome face. He's holding the tray in Keep it Gay from that production. But why should the most noticeable creature on stage be a mere chorus boy? Whose fault is it that he outshone everyone else?

La Cage has an extemely well-written book, thank you Mr Fierstein, a la the good ole musicals which being amateur musical society proof should have been a doddle for professionals. La Cage takes you into its sordid world of drag show homosexuality in which a middle-aged gay couple have brought up an unhomo son in a Riviera night club. Ooh la la! By the end of the show when the curtain falls on Albin and Georges in a long kiss, there can't be a single knife-weilding, beer swigging, shaven headed neo-Nazi in the audience who isn't rooting for gay love. Even they must grasp I am what I am. How perverse, how impossible, how Fwench. Mais oui, we have to hand it to zem.

Amateur musical societies can usually come up with a chorus larger than six and a band exceeding 5, and sets and costumes made with love and care and designed with flare. Yesterday's performance was stingy in every imaginable way except for the ticket prices. Nobody needed Grrrrraham Norton's crap singing and lack of stage presence, nor any of the cast's lack of elan. With the single exception of the chorus boy choreography, London's Playhouse was by and large a pazzazz free zone.

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