La Cage Aux Folles tells the story of a gay couple: Georges, the manager of a drag queen nightclub, and Albin, the nightclub’s main attraction. Problems ensue when Georges’ son, Jean-Michel, announces his engagement to Anne, whose father is the head of the ‘Tradition, Family and Morality Party’. ‘La Cage’ is 9 Works Theatrical’s latest undertaking, and the company’s first production for 2015. Based on the the Jean Poiret’s play (1973) of the same name, the musical features a book by Harvey Fierstein (Kinky Boots) as well as music and lyrics by Jerry Herman (Hello, Dolly!). The show opened on Broadway in 1983 and later went on to win four of the eight awards it was nominated for, including Best Musical and Best Original Score. Since then, it has spawned countless revivals and attained additional awards; and it’s easy to see why.
At the press launch, we were treated to a little sneak peak of what was to come and I must say that I was a bit anxious. Director Robbie Guevara himself said that the two leads had yet to perform without the script, and with just two weeks ’til the press preview, the Cagelles’ (La Cage’s drag performers) dancing was coming along nicely, but it wasn’t quite there yet. That in itself is a true testament to how hard this cast has been working, for the show I saw was impeccable. The attention to detail shines as brightly as the thousands of hand-sewn sequins on the Cagelles’ dresses. And while the show’s set is noticeably toned down in comparison to it’s Broadway and West End counterparts, it is never inferior. This is due to the creative team’s insistence on using solid set pieces, rather than resorting to digital projection, the culmination of which is extremely rewarding. Don’t get me wrong. The use of projection and other digital elements can work very well for some shows, but it isn’t suitable for this one. Everything on stage is tangible, giving the environment an air of authenticity. The costumes, which were made in collaboration with the Fashion Designers Association of the Philippines, were magnificent. 9 Works made the choice not to reveal the Cagelles’ costumes in any of their promotions; an apt decision indeed. The pieces were elegant and innovative, and really a sight to behold.
La Cage features many notable characters, both solemn and outrageous, but perhaps the most outlandish of them all is Noel Rayos’ brilliant Jacob. The most comedically entertaining character, Noel undergoes innumerable costume changes, as well as exemplary persona changes. Noel Rayos is definitely someone to watch out for, not just in the show, but in future ones as well. The music of Jerry Herman resembles the essential nature of the show’s queens: versatility. The songs in La Cage’s spectrum range from fabulously frenetic to powerfully poignant. Steven Silva’s Jean Michel sings the song that sets the show’s events in motion: WITH ANNE ON MY ARM. It’s no doubt that Steven can sing (and quite powerfully at that), but he slumps a little in the acting department. His gestures are repetitive and come off as mechanical. The show’s opening number, WE ARE WHAT WE ARE, is one of the most exciting. Michael de Mesa’s Georges enters the theater, welcoming the audience to the dazzling nightclub that is La Cage Aux Folles. The curtain comes up, the orchestra begins, and the Cagelles are center stage in all their fluff and glitter glory. From then on, you’re either grinning from ear to ear or left with your mouth agape at the sheer splendor before you. These men (and a few women) were tap-dancing, flipping, splitting, and performing a bevy of other types of dances. These fabulous performers did more than that. They offered the entirety of themselves up on that stage.
On the other end of the emotional gamut is Michael de Mesa’s SONG ON THE SAND. While we are witness to the unbelievable chemistry of the two leads for the entire duration of the show, it is never more apparent than in this number. Michael’s soft and oftentimes raspy crooning is one thing, but the unfeigned affection he displays is so heart-rending, the audience is left in pieces by the end of it. Though all of the songs in the show are remarkable, there is one number that really induces a torrent of emotion: I AM WHAT I AM. It has been deemed a banner song for the gay community, but more than that, it speaks of self-belief and acceptance. The song is performed by the more than capable Audie Gemora, the King of Philippine Theater. Let me tell you that the title is well-deserved. While Georges is on stage more than any other character, it is Audie’s Albin that does majority of the emotional heavy lifting. His big number I AM WHAT I AM takes place at the end of the first act, right before the intermission. And in the tradition of first act closers, the song is incredibly powerful. Audie has hollowed out the character and filled the space with an Albin that is not only hilarious, but at the core, a beautiful and fervid human being.
9 Works’ last show was such a hit, that the company brought it back for a rerun. La Cage Aux Folles is not only better, it is by far the greatest piece of local musical theatre I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing; and in many aspects, even on par with some of the Broadway shows I’ve seen. It’s leads are unrelenting in their passion, and the entire cast has brought the entirety of it’s talent, not going unnoticed for a moment.
La Cage Aux Folles is a force to be reckoned with, and it echoes in the audience’s cheers and standing ovations.