In the Singapore theatre industry, second chances are rare. Most productions, no matter how good they are, play for a strictly limited run. The curtain falls for one last time, and that’s it.
But La Cage Aux Folles is getting another lease on life this April – and director Glen Goei couldn’t be more excited to revisit a musical that means the world to him.
“When I first watched La Cage in London in 1987, I was on the edge of my seat the whole time,” Glen reveals over a latte at a café in Great World City. “Partly because it was such a good production, but I was also nervous because I had no idea how my staunchly Christian mother would react to it!”
La Cage Aux Folles tells the story of George and Albin, a loving gay couple who must pretend to be something they’re not when their son brings home the daughter of an ultra-conservative politician. Its cross-dressing quotient, shall we say, is considerably higher than average.
And yet, Glen’s mother managed to surprise him, her response demonstrating just how special La Cage Aux Folles is.
“She loved it!” he recalls, with a touch of wonder in his voice. “In fact, she asked me to take her to see it again before she left London. So we saw the show twice in two days!”
He attributes La Cage Aux Folles’ enduring appeal to its enormous heart and timeless message.
“It’s not just about drag queens and sequins and feather boas,” he points out. “It’s about love, acceptance, tolerance, diversity and family. It’s about being non-judgmental. It’s what theatre and the arts are all about!”
In 2012, W!LD RICE’s La Cage Aux Folles played out against the backdrop of a raging debate over repealing Section 377A, a law that criminalises homosexuality in Singapore.
This year, Glen expects La Cage Aux Folles to resonate with audiences for an entirely different reason.
“From Trump to Brexit, you can observe the rise of populism and conservatism all around the world,” he says soberly. “Singapore is no exception: when people lose their jobs and they have to fight for survival, they become more conservative. They’re less willing to embrace change and difference.”
“That’s why we thought it was important to stage La Cage now,” he says. “Because its message of embracing diversity is especially relevant in the world we’re living in today.” .
To this end, the 2017 iteration of La Cage Aux Folles will be completely reimagined. Glen is hoping to create a stripped-down but no less fabulous production, one that speaks directly to a Singaporean audience.
It helps that the show will be staged at the Victoria Theatre, which seats just over 600 people – approximately a third of the capacity of the Esplanade Theatre.
“It’s a smaller, more intimate stage, which will help draw the actors and audiences closer together,” he explains. “It’s more conducive to making this production as local as possible, and even more Singaporean than before. We want our audiences to really feel at home in the theatre!”
All in all, Glen is confident that audiences will enjoy themselves immensely at La Cage Aux Folles.
“After all, it has an excellent pedigree,” he points out. “The show has won Tony and Olivier Awards; and it was created by two Broadway greats, Harvey Fierstein and Jerry Herman.”
“And if I may say so myself,” he adds with a cheeky grin. “Our production will knock you out! We have an incredible cast led by Ivan Heng, Sean Ghazi and Hossan Leong, as well as a top-notch creative team featuring Singapore’s best theatre-makers. You are guaranteed a great night out at the theatre!”