‘La Cage’: A gender-bending family-oriented comedy
Mirava M. Yuson (The Philippine Star) - August 16, 2015 - 10:00am

MANILA, Philippines - 9 Works Theatrical’s production of La Cage Aux Folles ended its first run at the Carlos P. Romulo Theater in RCBC Plaza earlier this year, when I had the privilege of enjoying its penultimate show on March 28. And now, thankfully, persistent demand must have persuaded the company to restage the well-received musical this month until next.

First off, a quick lesson on language: the English translation of the phrase is “The Cage of Queens,” but admittedly, that doesn’t help much in the context department. In fact, within the play itself, the translation is never provided. This could very well be intentional. Maybe audiences are meant to go in blind, so that once the curtain rises and the kaleidoscopic set shimmers to life, they’re floored by the fantabulous display of drag queens dancing in outfits that make Miss Universe costumes look plebian.  

That’s Broadway for you. As expressed by a male audience member, who turned to his wife in disbelief: “Drag queens? Again?” And why not? Such a staple — like jazz hands — is to be expected, especially from creator Harvey Fierstein, who is still winning Tony’s for creating a similar play titled Kinky Boots. And in the long list of musicals about queens, La Cage was most likely the first, and is the one that set the trend. Its origins date back to the 1973 French play, with inspiration also taken from the 1978 film version starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane. Equal parts show within a show plus a gender-bending family-oriented comedy, the musical will give you whiplash from the lightning changes in mood. To sum it all up: wacky gay hijinks ensue.

La Cage proves that showstoppers don’t have to be placed right before intermissions. Doing them every 15 minutes is more than fine, too.

Performers at “La Cage” are labeled “Cagelles,” and the most famous one of them all is Albin (Audie Gemora). His husband is the master of ceremonies, Georges (Michael De Mesa), and the two struggle with the typical problems of parenthood, like guiding their newly-engaged son Jean-Michel (Steven Silva), and the not so typical problem of running a normal family on the outside and running the night club attached to their house.

The two also pretty much run the show for three hours. And while there are both typical and atypical jokes centered on gender identity and sexuality, the true force of the play comes from the unbreakable relationship between them. It is progressive in the regard that you never forget, thanks to the back-and-forth comedy stylings and chemistry between Gemora and De Mesa, that they are still like any married couple. The production is successful in making sure they remain a team, despite the occasional bumps in their married life.

Despite 20 years of being the star of “La Cage,” Albin is someone who has always been neck-deep in insecurities. All this culminates in the classic song I Am What I Am, and Gemora’s rendition will please even the show’s longtime fans. Interspersed in the narrative are performances by the Cagelles as they do their nightly shows.

The sheer amount of sparkling acrobatics and tap-dancing performed by the team of Siguion-Reyna, Rayos, Stacey, Javier, Divinagracia, Macaraig, Rodriguez, De Guzman, Deriada and Basco is simply staggering. And of course, they do everything in heels, wigs, full makeup and fashion-forward dresses that were collaborated on by the Fashion Designers Association of the Philippines. As evidenced by the emphasis on glitz and glamour in keeping with its soft emotional underbelly, 9 Works Theatrical has clearly brought its A-game from start to finish.

Gemora and De Mesa shine, figuratively and literally, as married couple Georges and Albin.

Occasionally, the narrative trips up and, for a play that preaches constantly on the importance of not needing labels, certain stereotypes remain embedded in the production. There’s a lot of high-pitched squabbling injected in even the calmest of moments. What is supposed to be a story for seasons can sometimes appear dated in that regard. But in the second act, when Albin and Gorges’ family situation gets even more convoluted, all hell breaks loose, which leads to laugh-out-loud moments courtesy of De Mesa and Gemora. It’s not the cruel type of comedy, either, where one might laugh at the subject of jokes, rather than with them. Fortunately (and perhaps, sadly, in retrospect), La Cage humanizes LGBT characters in ways that media today appear to have no interest in attempting.

Beautiful Parisian-inspired sets and a talented cast that also includes Missy Macuja Elizalden, Analin Bantug, Sheila Francisco and Raul Montesa cap off the musical and make it one of the most entertaining this year. Director Robbie Guevara (Rent, Wedding Singer, Sweet Charity) has added another treasure to Philippine theater. With all those fog machines, neon signs, feather boas and spectacular costumes that were used, the only other thing La Cage Aux Folles needed was this restaging.

* * *

It runs for four consecutive weekends until Sept. 6 at the RCBC Plaza, Ayala Ave., Makati City. For information, call 9 Works Theatrical at 586-7105, 0917-5545560 or email info@9workstheatrical.com www.9workstheatrical.com.

ACIRC ALBIN AND GORGES ANALIN BANTUG AUDIE GEMORA AYALA AVE CAGE GEMORA AND DE MESA LA CAGE LA CAGE AUX FOLLES QUOT WORKS THEATRICAL
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