Ivan Heng gets his drag on with Les Cagelles
Guts and glitter ― that basically sums up Wild Rice’s latest production at the Esplanade Theatre that runs through 4 August, 2012.
Filled with gender-bending antics and side-splitting laughs, La Cage Aux Folles makes quite an impression, and not just because it features a bunch of men in drag going through some of the most challenging dance numbers to ever grace an Esplanade stage.
But also because this Tony Award-winning musical (11 wins) pushes all the hot button issues that are still as relevant now as they were when the musical was first staged in 1983 ― gay marriage, gay parenting, sexual freedom, and the changing face of the modern family unit.
If you’re unfamiliar with the story, La Cage Aux Folles tells the story of Georges (Tony Eusoff), the owner of the nightclub La Cage Aux Folles, and his partner Albin (Ivan Heng), who performs as the sassy and glamorous Zaza. Hilarity ensues when Georges’ son, Jonathan (Aaron Khaled), comes home with news that he’s getting married to a girl named Anne (Seong Hui Xuan), whose father CK Tan (Darius Tan) is a leader of an ultra-conservative party hell bent on cleaning up the streets.
The cast of 'La Cage aux Folles'
But that isn’t the worst part — in order to please his fiancée’s parents who are coming to visit them, Jonathan says that Albin, who basically raised Jonathan as his own son, isn’t invited. The show follows the family members through their internal struggles, as they learn the importance of staying true to their family’s identity.
Director Glen Goei successfully transposed this French-set musical into a Singapore context — shifting the nightclub La Cage Aux Folles from St. Tropez to Tanjong Pagar and replacing the Riviera’s Promenade Café with local city scenes, like a typical kopitiam.
Wild Rice’s founding artistic director and self-proclaimed ‘serial cross-dresser’ Ivan Heng really steals the show as the irrepressible drama queen Albin/ZaZa. His impeccable comedic timing has the audience rolling with laughter with his dishy dialogue, and his intensity in the dramatic scenes draws more than a few tears. La Cage Aux Folles is really Albin’s story and he owns every scene he’s in. Heng’s Albin has absorbed a lot of influences from some well- known female impersonators and drag queens including Barry Humphries’ Dame Edna, the glamazon RuPaul and even our very own Kumar. Perhaps one of the more poignant moments of the musical will have to be during Act 1’s finale when Albin sends the cast offstage to steal the show with a show-stopping rendition of the signature anthem ‘I Am What I Am’, which rises from a heart-wrenching whisper to an electrifying crescendo.
Also read: Interview with Ivan Heng
Tony Eusoff is as charming as can be as George. The Malaysian thespian is the perfect Yin to Ivan Heng’s Yang, the perfect counterpoint to Albin/ZaZa’s over-the-top camp; and their chemistry onstage is just infectious. With his deep baritone voice and commanding stage presence, Eusoff breezed on stage through numbers like ‘Song on the Sand (La da da da)’ and crowd-pleaser ‘With You on My Arm’.
Fiesty laugh machine Hossan Leong, as Jacob, the butler/housemaid and Albin’s personal assistant, wins the audience over with his outrageous costumes and hilarious capers; while another stage veteran, actress Tan Kheng Hua is superbly charismatic as restaurateur Jacqueline who threatens to expose and ruin the reputation of Mr Tan if he does not agree to give up his hateful platform.
Ivan Heng seemed to have taken his style cues from a well-known 'celebrity' hairstylist
Aaron Khaled is in fine voice as Jonathan, the handsome son of George, who threatens to hide the gayness of his father and Albin from the parents of his fiancée. Judee Tan and Andrew Lua add a dash of Hokkien-peng as Tanjong Pagar coffee shop owners Lily and Ah Beng. And then of course, there are Les Cagelles, the 13 beautiful and sometimes gloriously over-the-top chorus ‘girls,’ whose performances accent the show as the story unfolds. In both the backstage scenes and in the musical numbers, they are fun to watch and are the perfect ensemble to support Albin’s alter ego, Zaza ― in fact; they’re a big reason the show is so awesome.
Chia Ching Kai’s set design is well suited for the show: clever transitions between on-stage, behind-the-curtain as well as the outdoor coffee shop scene helped the show flow smoothly. Not to mention that the massive birds’ paper cut design framing La Cage’s front-of-stage is visually striking.
Electric, feisty, and fun, La Cage Aux Folles is an entertaining and heart-warming musical with unforgettable performances, fine actors, and music that will have you humming for days. Under all the sequins and corsets, La Cage aux Folles is a musical with a big heart, and we cannot recommend it highly enough.
Wild Rice’s La Cage Aux Folles runs through 4 August at the Esplanade Theatre. Tickets $35-125 from Sistic.