Mar 26, 2015

[Theater] La Cage Aux Folles (9 Works Theatrical)

Once upon a time, I watched a Repertory Philippines play called Gay Birds, which was a localized adaptation of the classic play La Cage aux Folles. The whole thing had been translated into this strange Martial Law piece that was funny at moments but it struggled as well. But the writing felt clunky and it wasn't at all as funny as it could have been.

So when I heard that 9 Works Theatrical was staging run of the original La Cage aux Folles musical, I don't think you can blame me for not being all that excited initially. It wasn't until I checked in to find that the lead stars were Michael de Mesa and Audie Gemora that I sort of gave it a second consideration.

In the end, Tobie and I took the plunge and secured tickets for last Sunday's show and we juggled our schedule around to make time for it. And much to my surprise, I loved almost every minute of the production and I was laughing during most of the show and I really felt like I got my money's worth, if you want to look at things from that sort of a level.

Synopsis: La Cage aux Folles is musical based on the 1973 play of the same name with a book by Harvey Fierstein and lyrics and music by Jerry Herman. The 9 Works Theatrical staging was directed by Robbie Guevarra, who actually directed the play I talked about at the start of this post, Gay Birds. This run began on Febraury 28, 2015 and is set to end this weekend on March 29, 2015.

Georges (Michael de Mesa) is the owner of the St. Tropez drag nightclub, La Cage aux Folles with his "wife", Albin (Audie Gemora), otherwise known as the singing drag star of the show, Zaza. Zaza is notorious for being late for his shows. but is still treasured given his skilled singing. They live together with their butler/maid Jacob (Noel Rayos), who provides much of the comedy relief in this production.

Things change when Georges' son from a one-time fling, Jean-Michel (Steven Silva), shows up with news that he has fallen in love with an amazing girl named Anne (Joni Galeste / Missy Macuja Elizalde). But Anne is the daughter of the highly conservative Edauard Dindon (Raul Montesa), head of the "Tradition, Family and Morality Party" and one of his public pronouncements includes shutting down the various drag nightclubs in town. Thus Jean-Michel begs that Georges pretend to be straight for they night he is to meet Anne's parents along with asking Albin to stay away from the house during that time.

First, the show opens quite strongly with the Les Cagelles putting on a stellar show that wasn't too far away from the grand stuff we see on a regular basis at O Bar. The set design was pretty great given the lights and the translucent curtains that behave differently depending on where the lights are. Apart from some gaudy fake candles setup in the audience area, the rest of the production seemed very well done and provided the needed versatility to shift from the nightclub to the apartment Georges and Albin share.

It goes without saying that Michael de Mesa really carried this play amazingly well from start to finish. He's quite the established actor and has been no stranger to the theater scene and it was nice to catch him on stage again. He felt like an almost larger than life presence on stage and he shifted from comedy to romantic crooning with relative easy. And I have to say, he looks really good - the years have been more than just kind to him,

I've had mixed feelings about Audie Gemora over the years, but all that doesn't matter now. He is brilliant as Albin and Zaza and quite the powerful performance. I enjoyed his every moment on stage whether it was just being funny while giving Georges a hard time or performing on the main stage with the La Cagelles.

The La Cagelles themselves were an interesting mix of personalities that all had their moments in the spotlight. Clearly Hanna (Dindo Divinagarcia) was the crowd favorite with her signature whip and crazy sequences. But really the best comedic performance was not to be found in La Cage aux Folles itself but in Georges' home with Jacob. Forget how Hank Azaria interpreted the role in The Birdcage (also inspired by the same play). Noel Rayos's Jacob is a hilarious character all of his own and he was unforgettable in every scene he participated in.

The production as a whole is filled with great numbers, memorable comedic acts and a fair amount of good drama here and there. I kind of wish that the "children" had been stronger actors. At the very least Silva has an amazing singing voice despite his weak stage presence and Galeste was quite the skilled ballerina, at least in my assessment of such things. The show is a brilliantly entertaining theater experience and I certainly hope that more people get to catch it before it closes this Sunday.

La Cage aux Folles is a great musical and one that has been lovingly brought to life by the 9 Works Theatricals team. This is probably one of if not the best shows they've put on in years and hopefully it will act as a benchmark for the shows to come. This run gets a great 4.5 dazzling drag routines and dance numbers out of a possible 5.

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