Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A little more mascara

“And everything's sparkle dust
bugle beads, ostrich plums
when it's a beaded lash
that you look through”

For its 2015 season opener, Gawad Buhay award-winning theater company 9 Works Theatrical hearkens back to the sequins, costumes, feathers and glamorous fervor of the 70s as the company that brought you Grease, They’re Playing Our Song and Sweet Charity brings to life one of Broadway’s most beloved musicals – the three time Tony Award-winning musical hit, La Cage Aux Folles.

Literally meaning “the cage of mad women,” with folles being a slang term for effeminate homosexuals, La Cage Aux Folles takes a sumptuous dip into the love story of Georges (played by TV and film actor Michael de Mesa), owner of a popular nightclub in Saint-Tropez, and his life partner Albin (played by veteran stage actor Audie Gemora) who is the club’s star attraction.

Set against the backdrop of the 70s and the French Riviera, a time when the gay revolution was high and nigh, the musical in which the Robin Williams’ Hollywood hit Birdcage was based on, has earned critical acclaim worldwide including the Tony and the Olivier through its many-storied glossy productions around the globe.

The musical is based on the 1973 French play by Jean Poiret and ignites when Georges’ son Jean-Michel (played by TV actor Steven Silva) brings home his fiancée’s ultra-conservative parents to meet him and Albin who he affectionately calls ‘mother.’ Mayhem erupts, role-playing and hilarity ensue, and family ties and personal beliefs are put to a boiler, leaving no feather unplucked and no sequin unpolished.

'Cause when I feel glamorous
elegant, beautiful
the world that I'm looking
at's beautiful too

Whilst 9 Works Theatrical artistic director and La Cage director Robbie Guevara and 9 Works Theatrical associate artistic director and La Cage scenographer Mio Infante have assembled a who’s who from the showbiz, dance, ballet and theater world to breathe new life into this production, a huge impetus fell upon the duo’s hands. Besides the music and characteristic flair, how could you best transport the audiences of today into the sparkly goodness of the 70s?
One word: costume.

So when my spirit starts to sag
I hustle out my highest drag
And put a little more mascara on

“While Robbie used the song ‘I Am What I am’ as a springboard for the production, visually I decided that the song ‘A Little More Mascara’ would be a good entry point or mise-en-scene,” intimates 9 Works Theatrical’s associate artistic director Mio Infante. In the process of digging deep into the psyche of Zaza, Albin’s frivolous, fabulous stage persona, and his ravishing 10-person corps de ballet otherwise known as Les Cagelles, the duo opted to manifest the nostalgia and mystique of the drag shows of the 70s and 80s as opposed to drag as we know it today.

“Drag then was more feminine. They really imagined and believed themselves as women,” shares Infante – the characters of Georges and Albin having themselves worked for the famed Lido de Paris cabaret show along the Champs-Élysées before arriving at Saint-Tropez. It is this proclivity for enchantment and ‘illusion’ that the two characters bring to their own parochial revue.

For inspiration, Infante looked towards the Folies Bergère, a cabaret music hall that was very much rooted in the zeitgeist of the 1890s, the Belle Epoch, all the way through the Années folles (or the golden twenties). Mio also found himself drawing upon the likes of turn-of-the-century Russian-born French artist and designer Erté, and closer to the time, the flamingo showgirls from Las Vegas, to add boddess and authenticity to the scenes involving the Cagelles.

“We wanted to hark back to the 1987 London production of La Cage – the glitz, the glamour, and femininity of the folles as opposed to the 2010 Meneir Chocolate Factory production which transferred to Broadway.” It was a version that, although very much well received after bagging the Tony and Olivier, was pluckier and scaled down. “We want to dazzle audiences with the full, sparkling regalia of the Cagelles,” shares Robbie Guevara.

And everything's ankle straps, Maribou, Shalimar
It's worth sucking in my gut and girdling my rear
'Cause everything's ravishing, sensual, fabulous
When Albin is tucked away and Zaza is here

To elevate this act of nostalgia, Robbie and Mio approached the prestigious Fashion Designers Association of the Philippines (FDAP), headed by Edgar San Diego, to weave together elaborate, one-of-a-kind creations for La Cage Aux Folles’ iconic musical finale – “what will surely be a treat for our audiences as these talented and well-respected designers are as much a part of our history as they are creative horsepower,” shares executive producer Santi Santamaria.

Among the famed designers whose creations you’ll see onstage are John Abul, Danilo Franco, Gener Gozum, Edgar Madamba, Ole Morabe, Oscar Peralta, Lito Perez, Nholie Pilapil, Rholand Roxas, Edgar San Diego and Fanny Serrano.

“We’re truly honored to have them onboard,” shares Infante, adding that Repertory Philippines and theater stalwart Baby Barredo has opened her company’s costume trove to this production of La Cage Aux Folles. “We will be unearthing costumes from Rep’s 1988 production, and from other shows like M. Butterfly as well.” A visual tour-de-force and theatrical spectacle indeed!

So when it's cold and when it's bleak
I simply rouge the other cheek
For I can face another day
In slipper satin lingerie

Appearing alongside Audie Gemora, Michael de Mesa and Steven Silva are some of today’s most respected and up-and-coming theater performers. Theater veterans Raul Montesa and Sheila Francisco star as Jean-Michel’s ultra conservative in-laws Monseiur and Mademoiselle Edouard and Marie Dindon. Miss Saigon alumna Analin Bantug returns to the stage as restaurant owner Jacqueline while Hong Kong Disneyland performer Noel Rayos plays Jacob the butler.

Joining them are rising stars of the ballet world Missy Macuja-Elizalde and Joni Galeste alternating in the role of Anne, Jean-Michel’s fiancée while the iconic Les Cagelles will be played by JP Basco, Mara Celine Javier, Randi de Guzman, Carlos Deriada, Chesko Rodriguez, Dindo Divinagracia, Cheeno Macaraig, James Stacey and TV and film star Rafa Siguion-Reyna.

La Cage Aux Folles will be directed by Robbie Guevara, with scenic and costume design by Mio Infante, and special participation of the Fashion Designers Association of the Philippines; choreography by Arnold Trinidad, PJ Rebullida, and Yek Barlongay; musical direction by Joseph Tolentino and Sweet Plantado-Tiongson; lighting design by Martin Esteva; technical direction by Dong Calingacion; hair and makeup design by Myrene Santos; and additional costume execution by Twinkle Zamora; photography by Leo Castillo and graphic design by Larry Palma.

 Heading the production team is executive producer Santi Santamaria, with Anna Santamaria as company manager; Toff de Venecia as PR director; GM Hernandez as marketing manager; Jonjon Martin and Issa Tuason as PR managers; Randy Salvador as production manager; and Mikey Garcia as stage manager.

La Cage Aux Folles will be shown at the RCBC Plaza, Makati on February 28, March 1, 7, 8, 21, 22, 27, 28, 29, 2015, with Friday and Saturday galas at 8:00pm, selected Saturday matinees at 3:30pm, and Sunday matinees at 4:00pm.

A limited number of performances are available for fundraising and block-buying. For tickets and other inquiries, please call 586.7105 or 0917.554.5560, or email


Facebook: 9workstheatrical. Twitter & Instagram: @9WTonline. Hashtag: #LaCageManila  LA CAGE AUX FOLLES is presented by 9 Works Theatrical and The Rockwell Club, with MAC Cosmetics as the Official Makeup Sponsor. Official photos by Photoworks Academy.

"La Cage Aux Folles" is presented by special arrangement with SAMUEL FRENCH, INC.    

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