When the doors opened before the start of one matinee show last weekend, and as the early patrons entered the RCBC auditorium, the frontliners at the box office received a complaint from one of these early birds. The alleged complain was that the house smells like an old theater house. This, according to the audience member, is unacceptable.
Unbeknownst to the alleged complainant is the fact that 9 Works Theatrical has sprinkled subtle additions to this restaging, one of which is the smell that was complained about. But to the initiated, this makes the experience more vivid. More memorable. More real.
But above all is the scent. Along with the mist is the smell of cigarettes; of age-old tabaco. In the air, you smell the mixture of hidden pains, silent laughter, whispered gossips; even the musky fusion of French perfume and expensive sweat. All these surprises you, even before the curtain opens!
According to reports, the alleged complainant can’t do anything but to oblige. After all, he “has arrived at La Cage Aux Folles!”
A re-run can be good. It means that the company had a successful first try and that the audiences are screaming for more. It means more people will get the chance to see the show. There would be repeaters, for sure. Re-runs prove that audiences are flooding the theaters to catch a ballet, an opera, a play or a musical. It is proof that art is alive and kicking. Re-runs are good because it is a promise of another treat, another chance for a once proven delight.
But for those at the back of the stage, re-runs can be a source of undue stress. A director needs to recollect his notes and return to give direction for his team. Actors redo, reinvent and relive their characters. Producers re-compute costs and pray for the best. It is a risk that 9 Works embraced so happily.
And then the best of runs came.
Director Robbie Guevara brings back the packed treat from the initial run. Here, Guevara maintains the original punchlines to sustain the material’s timeless magic. It overflows with colors through Martin Esteva‘s lighting design, great costumes designed and executed by The Fashion Designers Association of the Philippines and Twinkle Jamora, and lavish sets by award-winning production designer Mio Infante. This is arguably 9 Work Theatrical’s most ambitious production, but that’s just probably me, and doing a re-run of such could be a risk. But they did it anyway, and from all angles – this re-run triumphs!
Who else can convincingly play Albin, nowadays? Of course we had had our own shares of gay roles and performances in the past months (or even years) but this classic character requires a certain level of discipline and focus and experience. Gemora is just perfect for Albin. His presence on stage echoes throughout this 2-hour musical. As Albin, Gemora experiments, deconstructs and wondrously delivers. In “I Am What I Am”, he sets aside the familiar gay-context that made the song a hit in the 80s. In this production, Gemora carries out a more unconventional interpretation of this famous anthem. Through Gemora, “I Am What I Am” becomes a painful aria of a rejected parent, a pained man, yet still maintains the same blooming pride that we know. This re-interpretation makes the experience more appealing, and undoubtedly closer to home.
De Mesa is such a treat on stage as the dashingly lovable Georges. In this re-run, de Mesa has mastered the caring and loving Georges. It is worthy to note how he manages to control his heavy scenes with just a raise of an eyebrow, a flick of a pinkie or a slight sway in a waltz. Here, de Mesa takes on, again, one of the most difficult roles as a man torn between his son and his partner. What particularly hit me was his rendition of “Song on The Sand.” As Georges recollects his early days with Albin, one can see how wonderful those moments were. De Mesa hits the mark when he recalls the sighs and waves and tunes of the day they first met. Worthy to mention, too, is his take on “Look Over There.” When Jean-Michel laid down his rules and conditions in preparation for a likely tragic night, Georges reminds him of who he is and what they are. In this rendition, de Mesa becomes the loving partner to his Albin and painfully calls to his son for a “little respect, a little understanding.”
Steven Silva returns to La Cage Manila with more emotions, presence and control as the love-sick Jean Michel. It is amazing to see how Silva has transformed through this role, and managed to give a deeper dimension to a stereotyped character. As each scene requires, Silva buoyantly jumps from a cheerful love-sick young man to a painfully demanding unico-hijo in the next. As Jean-Michel finally realizes his mistakes, Silva manages to present a repentant son, one thing that made me want to go run and embrace Nanay.
The La Cage Manila ensemble radiates even more this time. Noel Rayos, as Jacob, is absolutely hilarious and enjoyable to watch. Analin Bantug who plays Jacqueline is amazingly regal, and Sheila Fransisco makes the perfect innocent and obliging country mother as Marie Dindon. Raul Montesa plays the stereotypical fundamentalist Edouard most convincingly.
La Cage Aux Folles’ themes go beyond our revolution for identity. With it is a story that argues equality in almost everything; even in parenthood. It still lives, because in its characters, we see ourselves, our mothers, fathers and friends. We laugh at the jokes and nuances, because, most of the time, we laugh at ourselves. We cry when Albin announces her “being” because we take pride on who we are. We sigh when Jean-Michel realizes his mistakes, because (through him) we realize our own and forgive our chastened selves. La Cage Aux Folles may be a comedy, but with it is a story about forgiveness and acceptance, and a set of lovable characters that are quite hard to forget. In its own little way, it reminds us that we can be happier (with the help of a little mascara), to live life and embrace each moment. Above all, it is about love, and how it conquers everything so magically, so beautifully.
As you leave the mist-filled Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, you couldn’t help but to agree that the re-run of this lovable musical is the best of re-runs. 9 Works Theatrical has offered, as Georges says in the Finale, something “more than a folded program and a torn ticket stub…”
Thank you, Jaypee Maristaza, for these wonderful photos. Makes me want to run to RCBC and re-live the experience.