Debra Byrne returns to stage with La Cage aux Folles

Broadway classic <i>La Cage aux Folles</i> is heading to Arts Centre Melbourne in November.

Broadway classic La Cage aux Folles is heading to Arts Centre Melbourne in November. Photo: AAP/Jessica Bendall Publicity

For veteran entertainer Debra Byrne, returning to the stage is not so much about the role she’s singing, as whether it fits with her family.

Byrne is joining the Melbourne production of Broadway classic La Cage aux Folles, playing stylish restaurateur Jacqueline in her first stage part since Sweeney Todd in 2019.

She told AAP she’s thrilled to be involved with the production, and remembers singing a number from the musical dressed as a man in 1986, during her show Jerry’s Girls.

“I had such a ball doing that, it was one of the sexiest things I’ve ever done,” said Byrne.

“It was so good playing a male in this fabulous suit with the French accent.”

It’s 40 years since the first production of La Cage, which first opened in 1983 and won numerous Tony awards, breaking new ground as the first hit Broadway musical centred on a gay relationship.

For Byrne, who has starred in musicals from Cats to Les Misérables to Mary Poppins, returning to the world of La Cage’s Saint-Tropez drag nightclub had to fit in with her family.

Byrne, 66, is a full-time carer for her grandson Aaron, 16, who has multiple disabilities.

Where the usual six-month musical theatre run of eight shows a week would prove too much, La Cage’s limited season is manageable, she said.

“It fits in really well with my life … this is a very doable thing for me, it’s fun and it suits my family,” said Byrne.

She believes the theatre industry is tough on families, and remembers moving her children between Melbourne and Sydney for Mary Poppins when they were young.

“You never see your kids. They come home from school and you’re walking out the door,” she said.

Looking past the nightclub setting and drag outfits, La Cage is about families too – musical comedy style.

When manager Georges (Paul Capsis) and romantic partner Albin (Michael Cormick) have to meet Georges’ son’s ultra-conservative parents, of course chaos ensues.

Things have changed in Australia since the first productions of La Cage aux Folles in the late 1980s, said Byrne, whose youngest daughter is gay.

“We are fortunate to live in a country where artistry is free to continue to enlighten us regarding our LGBTQI+ community,” she said.

“Shining a beautiful bright light on that wherever we can is absolutely fine.”

Joining Byrne, Capsis and Cormick onstage will be Peter Phelps, Genevieve Morris, Loredo Malcolm and Bev Killick.

This latest production had a limited run in Sydney in April, but before that the last mainstage production of La Cage was in 2014, starring Todd McKenney, Simon Burke, Rhonda Burchmore, Marg Downey and Gary Sweet.

La Cage aux Folles opens at Arts Centre Melbourne from November 9.


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