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Review: 'La Cage aux Folles' Is Its Own Special Creation

By Freddy  /  25 Apr 2017 (Tuesday)

Photo Credit: Albert Lim KS

Those familiar with the local musical theatre scene would know that W!LD RICE has staged ‘La Cage aux Folles’ multiple times, most recently its critically-acclaimed 2012 production which was awarded the Straits Times Readers’ Choice Award for ‘Production of the Year’. This revival brings back a few actors reprising their roles, as well as newcomers who blend in seamlessly.

W!LD RICE does have an excellent material to work with. The original 1983 Broadway run of ‘La Cage aux Folles’ (by Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein) bagged 6 Tony Awards and went on to score 5 more in its revivals. Nevertheless, W!LD RICE shows that the material is not only timeless, but also timely.

Trading Saint-Tropez to Tanjong Pagar and Promenade Café to a coffeshop are some of the ways in which this production localizes the musical. There are several references to recent events that tell us that the story is set in the present day. None of the changes affect the story in a significant way as acceptance towards homosexuality and drag queens have not transformed greatly in the past 34 years. In fact, rejections of people who are different, intertwined with political agendas, and the musical’s message about acceptance and love could not have been more timely.

La Cage aux Folles
Date: Wed, 19 Apr - Sat, 13 May 2017
Time: Tue to Sat: 8.00pm
Sat & Sun: 3.00pm
Venue: Victoria Theatre
Ticket Price: $50 - $120

(Purchase your tickets here)

You have arrived at LA CAGE, a fabulous nightclub in the heart of Tanjong Pagar. Here, George is your charming host and Albin, his long-time partner, headlines the world-famous cabaret as glamorous diva Zaza. Life is beautiful, until George's son, Jonathan, announces his plan to marry the daughter of Mr. C.K. Tan, an ultra-conservative politician hell-bent on shutting down the colourful local nightlife. When Jonathan brings his future in-laws home to 'meet the parents', the bonds of family are put to the test and the feather boas fly!

(Find out more about the show here)

Photo Credit: Albert Lim KS

Victoria Theatre proves to be a perfect venue for the musical, as even the audience in circle seats gets a close, intimate view of the stage. Its nightclub-themed performances with shows-within-a-show truly benefit from the venue. The stage and set pieces, designed by Eucien Chia, make it clear that W!LD RICE does not skimp on production value. Visually, the show can parallel what you find on productions that come from the US or UK.

The costumes, designed by Frederick Lee, are numerous and impressive. The standouts are the costumes of Zaza and Les Cagelles. They are lavish, colourful, and appropriately loud. An added challenge is that nearly every character dances in this musical. While the set design is great, the costumes also go a long way in making ‘La Cage aux Folles’ a visual treat.

Photo Credit: Albert Lim KS

When George (Sean Ghazi) welcomes the audience to his nightclub and the Cagelles open with a rousing rendition of “We Are What We Are”, we know we are off to a good start. The talented and energetic ensemble immediately sets a high bar for the main cast to follow. The main cast does need a few scenes to warm up, but once they are up and running, they do entertain and deliver.

Ivan Heng’s acting chops need not be doubted in his reprisal of the role of Albin, and his stage alter ego Zaza. He channeled the complex role well as a wife, a mother, and a stage performer. It is a comedic role but Heng gives the character a lot of depth. You could empathize with his frustration of constantly having to put up a front all the time. His singing left more to be desired when he started with his first number, “(A Little More) Mascara”. But by the time he superbly belted out “I Am What I Am” at the end of Act One, it is unquestionable that he is the perfect actor for the role.

Sean Ghazi is certainly one of the best singers in the main cast, playing as Albin’s husband George. His melodious “Song on The Sand” was one of the highlights of the musical. His acting is top-notch, too. The audience can sympathize with his predicament of being the mediator between Albin and his son, Jonathan. He definitely has great chemistry with Ivan Heng and you could feel that they are a long-time couple with a lot of history.

Photo Credit: Albert Lim KS

Darius Tan and Jo Tan are versatile as Mr. and Mrs. C. K. Tan and the coffeeshop owners. Darius Tan’s comically stiff portrayal as Mr. C. K. Tan is appropriate while Mrs. C. K. Tan suppressed personality gives a lot of laughters in the few scenes she was in. Aaron Khaled’s performance as Jonathan is suitably unstable as the young adult in love, although that sometimes translates to uneven performance when he plays opposite Heng and Ghazi. Mae Elliessa did alright as Jonathan’s girlfriend Anne, but had very little to work with.

Hossan Leong is a scene-stealer as Albin’s assistant Jacob. His comedic timing is impeccable and his antics often seem spontaneous, which feels refreshingly apt in a show like ‘La Cage aux Folles’. Another standout performance is Frances Lee’s role as the restaurant owner Jacqueline, who shows a well-defined attitude and sass in the few scenes she appeared in.

Photo Credit: Albert Lim KS

While the main plot is very simple, its themes of parenting, family, and acceptance are heartwarming and relatable without being overly preachy. The ending does feel rushed but also remains relatively realistic. Mr. Tan does not suddenly change his disapproval of Jonathan’s gay parents. The happy ending is only a compromise, which only happens when Mr. Tan’s political career is at stake and both pairs of parents decide to put aside their disagreements for their children’s happiness.

Overall, ‘La Cage aux Folles’ is a light-hearted, funny musical that will surely be a crowd-pleaser. It has enough laughter and heart to keep the audience entertained for 2 hours. If you think that the local productions are not able to keep up with the international touring productions, but this one might change your mind.
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