Review of W!ld Rice’s “La Cage Aux Folles”

Title of performance: La Cage Aux Folles (French translation – the cage of madwomen)

Theatre Company: W!ld Rice

Date of performance: 22 July 2012, matinee

Performance Venue: Esplanade Theatre

Pink. Lots of pink. And, pink. It takes a whole lot of courage, and dollars, to stage La Cage Aux Folles (pronounced ler-karge-oh-fall) in all its spectacular splendor.

But W!ld Rice did it. With much pomp and flair. Having scoured the world to put together the best people to play George (Tony Eusoff) and the Les Cagelles, Glen Goei directed a show easy on the eye and heart. About a not-so typical family of 3 consisting of a gay couple (Tony Eusoff as George, Ivan Heng as Albin) and son Jonathan (Aaron Khaled) who run a drag queen club in Tanjong Pagar by night. Trouble brews when son Jonathan brings home his fiancee Anne (Seong Hui Xuan), daughter to one of the most prominent anti-homosexual parents in the land, politicians Mr. and Mrs. C.K.Tan (Darius Tan, Karen Tan) from the “Traditional Family Morality Party”.

Patron sponsor Man Investments and W!ld Rice angels provided the moolah for the production, which resulted in a flamboyant, feathery, barely-there, all-things-sequined-and-loud wardrobe for Albin and the Les Cagelles. And the dazzling set was draped with lights for the revue, peppered with thoughtful details like soft chandeliers and a sweet moonlit shop front. Many of us wanted to melt when Heng donned his bustier fuchsia dress and hairpiece, false eyelashes and all. The costumes (Frederick Lee) and make-up (Beno Lim, M.A.C. as official sponsor) were simply stunning. And that penultimate scene, where white light and silver flooded the stage, and the Les Cagelles danced to La Cage Aux Folles, just took my breath away. Lady Gaga meets Moulin Rouge, tastefully done indeed. I’ve never seen a more beautiful array of headgear and costumes in my life – it was like an unreal yet scintillating piece of distorted reality. You have to watch it to fully comprehend what I mean.

The things that stood out for me: W!ld Rice’s non-desecration of the multiple Tony award-winning musical, and the faithfulness to its script, with only a few local references to make it accessible. The singing – very nice, though not fantastic, and Tony Eusoff’s wonderful George, who certainly can rival the ranks of Kelsey Grammar’s and Robert Goulet’s Georges. And of course, Jerry Herman’s music. The things that left much to be desired: the live orchestra, and the awkward dancing of some of the Les Cagelles.

Heng grounded the Albin character with a most natural and earthy feel in the moments where he was out of his Lady Zaza character in the show. His petulant and domesticated Albin (“I cooked tau yew bak, ji bao gai, ikan asam pedas and you were nowhere in sight!”) brought out the best in Eusoff’s suave and adoring George, who la-da-da-dah-ed his way to our hearts with his Song on the Sand. Through the couple’s tender displays of affection, we met with a theme that has been making the news lately (think pink). We had to ask ourselves the soul-searching question: is society ready to accept people for who they are?

As much as I wanted to embrace the musical’s timely message of acceptance, the answer, I believe, is as blurry and uncertain as the answer to the question of who in the Les Cagelles were men/ women. It’s a long road ahead to full-blown acceptance here, and the brains behind this production know it. Daring to take this step to stage a relatively controversial play was only the beginning, but a really brave one.

I wouldn’t miss this production, if I were you. Catch it before it fades into just another one-of-those plays. The memory of the bizarre spectacle will stick with you for awhile, and those soft moments between George and Albin will linger on to tug at your heartstrings.

W!ld Rice’s La Cage Aux Folles is playing at the Esplanade Theatre from 20 July to 4 August 2012.

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