Cabaret: Ain't no venue kitsch enough

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The Independent Culture



I KNEW this was going to be an unusual evening from the moment I was offered lipstick and eye-shadow with my pre- concert canapes. From then on, it just got more and more extraordinary. Having played non-stop on The Strip for more than 15 years, La Cage is far and away the longest-running show in Las Vegas. It is now making its European debut in central London.

I have to admit that my heart sank somewhat at the prospect of eight female impersonators dressing up as some of the world's top singers and lip-synching along to their hits. This promised to be the cheesiest event this side of the Eurovision Song Contest. Even in our irony-driven, post-modern culture, surely such a tacky show would be a kitsch too far.

But against all odds, it was not. Nobody could claim it is the most profound show in the world; in fact, it is hard to think of a more shallow one.

But with La Cage, it's a case of never mind the depth, feel the hedonism. Once you surrender to the sheer daftness of the idea, there is an almost guilty pleasure to be derived from watching eight blokes, in frocks to die for, camping it up to show-stopping number after show-stopping number.

Tapping into the same appeal as ITV's Stars in Their Eyes, La Cage also enables you to indulge in the forbidden joys of lookalike-spotting. When Chris Woods' uncanny likeness of Diana Ross burst out from behind the glittery silver curtain, I understood for perhaps the first time the meaning of the term "jaw-dropping".

Introduced by Gary Dee's wickedly accurate Joan Rivers, the performers won us over with their sometimes reckless commitment - Larry Edwards' Patti Labelle spun around in a circle so deliriously, he nearly toppled off the stage. They are so into their acts, you willingly suspend disbelief about them.

They display a minute attention to detail too. Woods' Whitney Houston received a round of applause for his bravura lip-wobbling during the vibrato section of "I Will Always Love You". There was a delicious moment when Chad Michaels as Celine Dion self-dramatisingly flicked his hair before the chorus of "My Heart Will Go On".

The troupe were well aware of the ironies in their performance. When Michaels mimed to Cher's line "so many things, they come and go", he looked down pointedly at his carefully-concealed nether regions.

My one quibble would be that the jokey acts do not work as well as the, er, straight ones. For instance, Jimmy Emerson's Tammy Wynette ran through a tiresome routine with a pair of balloon-breasts. The performances are eye-catching enough; there is no need to gild the lily with gags.

But it is an undeniably fun evening, cannily scheduled during the festive season. If you're still looking for an event for your office party, look no further.

To 6 Jan (0171-413 1732)