Glitz and glamour with heart: La Cage aux Folles

Jeanette Tan
Going Out – By Night

"La Cage aux Folles", Glen Goei's Singapore remake of the Tony award-winning musical. (W!LD RICE photo)


I wasn't sure what to expect going to see La Cage aux Folles, W!LD RICE's latest musical production.

What I did know, however, was not to worry about being blown away by a torrent of bright lights, glamour and quite simply put, fabulousness, as the show's flashy posters and programme cover promised.

In that department, I was definitely not in the least bit disappointed.

But there is so much more to the wondrous La Cage family that transcends the drag-queen-showgirl surface story.

Not that the passionate, all-in song and dance sequences by the all-male (except for four--see if you can spot them!) cast of talented Cagelles were insufficient as spectacular performances in themselves, but more importantly, the musical delves into the social challenges faced by homosexuals in Singapore in a completely non-clichéd, heartwarming, and at the same time hilarious fashion.

Beyond just doing that, however, the show tackles head-on what happens when a two-dad family, one of whom is the title nightclub's glorious drag-queen centrepiece Zaza (pronounced 'jaja' with a stylistic flourish), is unleashed on a Singaporean Chinese family that is just about as strict and conservative as they come.

Director Glen Goei, who faced the mammoth task of relating a French-set story featuring a homosexual nightclub to straight-laced Singapore, does an absolutely stunning job.

He successfully transitions La Cage aux Folles from St. Tropez to Tanjong Pagar, turns George and Albin's lovestruck son Jean-Michel to Jonathon and transforms the Promenade Café into a lovely coffee shop straight out of the '60s --  just some of subtle touches that assert Goei's triumphant ownership of this local remake.

If you're going to watch the show (and if you haven't made plans to do so yet, you should), look out for the numerous references to local current affairs during Zaza's pre-intermission monologue -- digs on last year's train disruptions, the online vice ring that involved 80 men in initial investigations and even the passing round of an "offering bag".

And of course, no Singaporean play is complete without its share of subtle political commentary -- La Cage features at least two, and I'll leave you to spot them.

Ivan Heng (left) and Tony Eusoff play the two male leads Albin/Zaza and George, who have been in a 20-year relationship. (W!LD RICE photo)

Well and truly, there is no person better suited for the role of Albin and Zaza than theatre Thespian Ivan Heng.

After being enthralled by his performance of the epitome of masculinity in The Weight of Silk on Skin in last year's Man Singapore Theatre Festival, and now in La Cage, I need no further convincing of Heng's commanding stage presence, luscious, deep, polished voice and astounding versatility.

Paired with Malaysian stage, television and film personality Tony Eusoff, who himself has an extremely laudable spoken and singing voice, the two prove to be an adorable, lovely on-stage couple.

Any concern that Heng and Eusoff might have awkwardness between them melted away in the first kopitiam scene, where the dramatic shyness of Albin, who chides George for kissing his hand ("We're in public view!") is matched lovingly by George's subtle, unexpected romantic side ("You still bring a blush to my cheek").

I fell in love with them by the end of With You on my Arm.

Hossan Leong as Jacob / "Claudine" pretty much runs a show of his own. (W!LD RICE photo)

Hossan Leong as the couple's butler/maid (depending on how you choose to see him) Jacob/"Claudine" is pretty much a show all on his own.

Despite Jacob's role actually being quite a small one in La Cage, Leong pulls three times the weight of his petite frame, snatching the audience's attention every time he skitters on stage as Zaza's minion and wannabe Cabaret showgirl.

As Jacob/"Claudine" prances, preens and practices a more male-sounding voice as he/she dresses up in an elaborate butler suit, Leong's stellar performance of the role was without doubt most perfectly pulled off, leaving the audience in stitches nearly every time he spoke.

Praise also undoubtedly goes to the handsome Aaron Khaled, who in playing the role of Jonathon unveiled a beautiful, rounded singing voice.

Local theatre performers Andrew Lua and Judee Tan (famed for playing Kim Bong Cha in The Noose), who play Ah Beng and Lily respectively, weave just the right amount of Hokkien and Singaporean heartland "unsophistication" into the show.

Veteran actress Tan Kheng Hua, who plays the fancy restaurant owner Jacqueline, started off slightly awkward in her first key scene, but seemed to ease off into her character much more naturally later on.

The ensemble of Cagelles, who provide backup and great entertainment in La Cage aux Folles. (W!LD RICE photo)

Ultimately, though, no review of La Cage is complete without recognising the brilliance of Les Cagelles.

The cabaret showgirls constitute the undercurrent thread running through the entire story, and their presence a constant reminder to the audience that no matter what happens back or off-stage, the show must go on.

Dressed up beautifully by costume designer Frederick Lee, the girls (okay, mostly boys) clearly put their hearts and souls into their routines, whipped into shape by established choreographer Lisa Keegan. They may not all show the grace, lithe-legged kicks and smooth sensuality that an all-female showgirl cast may possess, but to me, that's what makes Les Cagelles so special.

They have the flexibility -- at numerous points, they go jumping into splits on the floor -- and the strength, and they still wow the audience in their own glitzy, fabulous way.

Yet, at the same time, the cagelles ensure that they ultimately still fall short of the star of the show, who at one point walks out to a massive glittering golden sign screaming her name.

Indeed, La Cage aux Folles dazzles not just through its spectacular sets, lights, costumes and songs, but also through a heartwarming story about families, love and acceptance that inspires thought and reflection in so many ways.

Watch this show -- you will definitely not leave simply with just your programme and ticket stub.

La Cage aux Folles runs from now till 4 August at the Esplanade Theatre, with shows from Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm, and weekend matinees at 3pm. Please visit Sistic for more details and to purchase tickets.