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La Cage aux Folles

July 22, 2012

(photo credit: Albert Lim KS ©)

Event: “La Cage aux Folles” by W!ld Rice
Venue: Esplanade Theatre
Run: 20th July – 4th Aug 2012

Rather Gaudy, Rather Grand

“La Cage aux Folles”, the lovable and delightfully fabulous musical revolving around the fictitious nightclub of the same name, opens at the Esplanade Theatre in what is likely to be the most highly-anticipated locally-staged musical this year.

“La Cage”, based on the 1973 French farce by Jean Poiret, tells of nightclub owner George and his gay partner Albin, who also happens to be the club’s star attraction “Zaza”, and features music and lyrics by renown Broadway songwriter Jerry Herman, who famously also wrote songs for “Hello, Dolly!”.

The lead role of Albin is played by none other than Ivan Heng himself, and even director Glen Goei said in the programme notes: “I didn’t want to direct it (La Cage) with anyone else in the lead role. I mean, who else in Singapore could play him?”

How true.

When you stop to think about it, it’s hard to imagine anyone else in Singapore more equipped in playing the role of Albin than Ivan Heng.

Granted, Ivan’s singing perhaps isn’t the greatest, but it is everything else he puts into the role that makes this particular production of “La Cage” so riveting.

Perhaps the highlight of his impressive performance is when he unleashes the show-stopper of a number “I Am What I Am” at the close of the first act, underlining his resolve to hold firm to being what he is and what he believes in, and it is a number which is highly reminiscent to me of Rose’s “Everything’s Coming Up Roses”, also at the close of the first act of “Gypsy”, in terms of dramatic intent.

Tony Eusoff, whom I’ve not seen on stage before, presents the perfect counterpoint to Ivan’s Albin, playing the role of the accommodating lover George.

Tony exudes a soothing sense of maturity beyond his years, and plays George with an air of fatherliness that betrays his relative young age.

The Jerry Herman score is characterised by fairly light melodies in the style of French music, and standout tunes include the iconic “We Are What We Are”, as well as “With You On My Arm” and “A Little More Mascara”.

It has to be pointed out, however, that the musical numbers in “La Cage” seem to be slightly fewer as compared to other full-length musicals, if you were to only consider the new tunes and disregard the various reprises.

“La Cage” is a huge production with a large cast, and also making an appearance in the musical are the likes of Hossan Leong as Jacob the butler (or Claudine the maid, depending on how you want to look at it), Aaron Khaled as Jonathan the son of George, Seong Hui Xuan as Jonathan’s love interest Anne, Darius Tan and Karen Tan as the parents of Anne, Tan Kheng Hua as Jacqueline, and Andrew Lua and Judee Tan as coffee shop owners.

Hossan Leong was commendable in his tireless efforts to entertain as the butler/maid who yearns to land a spot in the “La Cage” show, while one did have the niggling feeling that Aaron Khaled was slightly out of his depth especially when playing off the likes of Ivan Heng and Tony Eusoff.

While the costumes by Frederick Lee were both glitzy and glamorous, the set design was, sad to say, slightly disappointing as one would have expected to see more sophisticated and ornate sets as befitting a musical production of such a nature and stature.

I didn’t think the sets such as the living room, the backstage dressing room, the roadside coffee shop (which reminded me a lot of “Fried Rice Paradise”), and the Chez Jacqueline restaurant looked all that impressive, to be honest, and I had somehow expected something better.

Also, it seemed to me that some of the scene changes in the first act were rather clunky, but I trust that this would be sorted out as the show runs its course.

Another highlight of the show definitely has to be the Cagelles, who are the “showgirls” of the “La Cage” nightclub, with their ostentatious outfits and their sizzling dance moves.

In keeping with the spirit of the musical, the group of Cagelle dancers are predominantly male, with a few female dancers thrown into the mix.

In essence, “La Cage” is a musical about the freedom to love, and accepting people who for they are and who they choose to be, whatever their persuasions or inclinations.

It seems to come at a highly appropriate time, in an era where our society seems to be learning how to open up and embrace diversity.

We’ve still got a ways to go, but if anything, “La Cage” prods us to accept our loved ones, warts and all, because everyone is special and unique.

And in the same vein, I guess one could also learn to look past the minor shortcomings of this production and celebrate both its message and its spirit, for after all, life is indeed a celebration.

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