As the lights dim, your host for the evening, George (played by Sean Ghazi) charismatically welcomes you to La Cage, the world renowned nightclub tucked away in the heart of Tanjong Pagar. Here, your worries and cares will melt into the background as the club’s cabaret dancers, led by George’s partner Albin aka the glamorous diva Zaza (played by Ivan Heng), bewitch you with their sultry voices and technicoloured feather boas. Life is wonderful for George and Albin, until the former’s son, Jonathan, reveals his plans to marry the daughter of Mr CK Tan, an ultra-conservative politician hell-bent on putting an end to the colourful nightlife scene. Obviously, this proves to be a bit of a problem, considering George and Albin’s “less-than-conventional” lifestyle. When Jonathan brings his future in-laws home to meet his folks, drama ensues and the bonds of family are tested. La Cage aux Folles is a Broadway musical that has seen multiple revivals and won numerous Tony awards. W!LD RICE’s production of it was first staged in 2012, and has now returned with a star-studded cast led by Ivan Heng, who is no stranger to the theatre scene in Singapore. We speak to him about this colourful production.

This Broadway play is obviously well-known and beloved, so what is unique about W!LD RICE’s production of La Cage Aux Folles?

We have brought it closer to home. We’re consciously working on creating a production that’s very much for our times and audiences in Singapore. That’s why we’ve relocated the show and its characters to Tanjong Pagar, and we’re having a lot of fun uncovering what’s local about this truly universal musical. You won’t be able to watch this production of La Cage Aux Folles anywhere else in the world!

Is there going to be anything different from the 2012 iteration?

It’s a brand-new production, really! There are only four actors in the cast who also performed in the 2012 production – myself, Hossan Leong, Aaron Khaled and Darius Tan. The rest of the company is new. That completely changes the dynamic on stage. We’re treating it like a show we’ve not done before, going through and finding new meaning in every line of the script. It will be a totally new experience for audiences as well – we’ll be performing in the Victoria Theatre this time, which will be far more intimate. The set and costumes have been designed from scratch. You’ll have to come and see for yourself just how much is different from the 2012 production!

How did the idea to bring back this musical come about?

There’s a wave of conservatism sweeping over the whole world now. We’re living in a time of President Trump and Brexit, when people are threatening to boycott family-friendly fare like a Disney movie because of its ‘gay agenda’. We’re starting to be suspicious of people who don’t look or sound or love like us. That’s incredibly unsettling.

It’s also why we felt that the timeless message at the heart of La Cage Aux Folles is particularly timely now. This brilliant musical celebrates love, diversity and being true to yourself. It’s definitely a show that means and matters today more than ever.

This looks like a really fun production to work on, any interesting production stories/experiences?

In recent years, gay marriage has really come to the fore all over the world. It’s been recognised in the UK and America, and I myself got married in London in 2014. What I found really interesting about this production is being reminded that there are many different and legitimate viewpoints about this issue, even within the gay community. In the show, my character is actually anti-marriage. Albin doesn’t want to be a part of this old-fashioned institution that he thinks is patriarchal, misogynistic and discriminatory.

 

From what we can see, the wardrobe looks fantastic. Who was behind it? Did a lot go into producing it?

Frederick Lee, designer extraordinaire, creates haute couture for the theatre. It’s an elegant explosion of colour and style and magic, in every hand-sewn bead, feather and sequin. We can’t wait to step into these costumes and let them help us tell our story!

How has working with Glen Goei been?

We’re best friends and have known each other for over 40 years. I trust him implicitly. Knowing someone so well and being such good friends allows you to be honest. We definitely don’t agree on everything, so our frank and no-holds-barred relationship has occasionally led to creative tension – but we’ve found that it can also result in new discoveries. It’s a working relationship and friendship I treasure.

What can audiences look forward to in La Cage?

They can look forward to a joyful, moving, romantic evening. They can expect to fall in love.

Your list of accolades never seems to end, and it feels like you’re always working on something new. How do you keep the creative juices flowing and what do you do to unwind?

I keep my creative juices flowing by being open and curious about the world we live in.

I don’t usually get to unwind during a production until after the final curtain falls – that’s when I take a trip with my husband, Tony. It’s an opportunity to rest and recover from the entire show! In general, yoga and meditation helps me to unwind. I binge television shows during the weekend – recently, I’ve really enjoyed Please Like Me, a wonderful Australian TV series, and Narcos on Netflix.

As humorous as the premise for La Cage sounds, it feels like there are more serious undertones at play. Are there lessons to be taken away?

Absolutely. The musical reminds us to embrace difference and diversity – and also that life is short. We should seize any and all opportunities to love more, and judge less!

La Cage Aux Folles is now on at Victoria Theatre. Get your tickets at Sistic.

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