Dozens of wigs, tons of makeup, gazillions of sequins and bugle beads—and soaring Filipino talent—make 9 Works Theatrical’s production of “La Cage aux Folles” fly. The show is back until Sept. 6 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza, Makati City. PHOTO FROM 9 WORKS THEATRICAL
‘La Cage aux Folles’: All that glitter proves to be gold
With the growing acceptance of gay marriages, is it still an issue when a man introduces his gay parents to his fiancee’s straight folks? If given the liberty, what would the director of a well-loved musical comedy like “La Cage aux Folles” do to update it?
These were just two of the more weighty questions director Robbie Guevara had to answer, as he and his cast led by Michael de Mesa (Georges) and Audie Gemora (Albin/Zaza) faced the media after a special staging of “La Cage aux Folles” last weekend at RCBC Plaza in Makati.
An earlier version of the musical, produced by 9 Works Theatrical and also directed by Guevara, ran for two months early this year.
The current production opened Aug. 14 and runs till Sept. 6 in the same venue with minor changes in the cast.
Gay marriage is probably no longer an issue to many people today in France, where the story is set, Guevara said. If he were to update it to reflect changing times, Jean-Michel (Georges and Albin’s straight son played by Steven Silva) would be gay.
The tables would have been turned as Jean-Michel comes out, gets engaged and tries to find a way to introduce his boyfriend to his conservative heterosexual parents without them killing him or keeling over from shame.
But Guevara didn’t and couldn’t change a thing. It’s a tribute to him and his cast that, despite “La Cage’s” thin, predictable, and arguably dated story line, the musical elicited plenty of laughs from an audience already familiar with the material.
Georges and Albin play a gay couple who run La Cage aux Folles, a Club Mwah-type establishment in St. Tropez. While Georges produces and hosts the nightly shows below their apartment, the drag queen Albin, alias Zaza, supported by a gaggle of gay and female performers called Les Cagelles, stars in them.
Trouble begins when Jean-Michel, Georges’ love child from his confused past, announces to his father that he’s engaged to Anne (Joni Galeste).
Albin is more than just Georges’ partner. In the absence of Jean-Michel’s biological mother named Sybil, he also raised the boy as his own.
It would have been a non-issue to the liberal Anne, but not to her ultra-conservative parents. Her right-wing father has built a political career pandering to fellow conservatives by shutting down brothels and seedy nightclubs along the Riviera.
Now that Anne’s folks want to meet Jean-Michel’s unconventional parents, what would the love-struck lad do? Should he introduce them as they are, or should he make up a story to the point of redecorating the house and keeping Albin out of sight, just to give his future in-laws the impression that he grew up in a “normal” family?
Like other musicals with a big cast, “La Cage” offers each of its principal characters plenty of opportunities to shine.
The best lines and song numbers are reserved for Gemora and De Mesa, but the boyish Silva, who gives justice to the role of a spoiled and narrow-minded young man, has his moments, too.
Casting Gemora and De Mesa as a gay couple is a coup. They give their onstage partnership the right amount of push and pull that make for an engaging production that leaves the audience not only in stitches, but also hopefully a tad wiser and more open to other forms of love and family.
Like all great comedies, it all boils down to delivery and timing, and the two have perfected theirs, in their tense or tender moments.
Gemora, from his eye-rolling down to his sticking pinkies and sweeping gestures, is a natural. (His Uncle Albert reminds us of a convicted politician’s trademark pompadour.) While a less seasoned actor would have been tempted to turn the role into a caricature, Gemora gives a textured and empathetic performance while still drawing laughs.
His Albin/Zaza character was written with grand entrances, rivaled only by Noel Rayos’ scene-stealing turn as Jacob, the cross-dressing butler who harbors ambitions of becoming one of La Cage’s featured performers. His nun and Shakespearean acts bring the house down.
Although De Mesa’s character is less colorful than Gemora’s, he doesn’t allow it to hinder his performance. In keeping with his character as the musical’s voice of wisdom and reason, De Mesa deliberately reins in the punches. But whenever he sees an opening, the lone movie star in the cast always manages to connect.
Rafa Siguion-Reyna (Mercedes), Sheila Francisco (Marie), Analin Bantug (Jacqueline) and Dindo Divinagracia (Hanna from Hamburg) stand out in the musical’s huge cast of supporting players.
Fun and illusion
The characters’ quick costume changes require at least 30 backstage dressers to execute.
The fun and illusion won’t be complete without the over-the-top but spot-on stage-within-a-stage costumes by Twinkle Zamora and the Fashion Designers Association of the Philippines.
Amid the chaos and confusion, choreographers PJ Rebullida and Arnold Trinidad successfully put order in the Cagelles’ seemingly ad hoc and spontaneous dance numbers. It also takes dozens of wigs, tons of makeup and gazillions of sequins and bugle beads to make this production fly.
All that glitter, it turns out, is gold. Even with changing social norms, choosing to love and raise a family differently can still be daunting and painful. But, as this latest staging of “La Cage aux Folles” reveals, it can also be meaningful and funny—often without trying to.
9 Works Theatrical’s rerun of “La Cage Aux Folles” runs until Sept. 6 at the RCBC Plaza. For ticket inquiries, call 9Works Theatrical at 0917-5545560 and 586-7105, or TicketWorld at 891-9999 or e-mail at [email protected]