Monday, July 30, 2012

'Open your eyes' and welcome to La Cage ...

Title : La Cage aux Folles
By : Wild Rice Productions
Venue : Esplanade Theatre, Singapore
Date : Sunday, 29th July 2012
Time : 3pm

I have been waiting for La Cage for weeks. I booked my dates on the first day that the tickets were released to the public. It was going to be Wild Rice’s “headline” production for 2012 and Ivan Heng was in it. Not just directing or producing but having a lead role in it. The last I saw Ivan acting was in “Emily on Emerald Hill” and that was more than a year ago. In the days since ‘opening night,’ reviews have been coming hard and fast. All reviewers had nothing but glowing accolades in their reviews. Standing-ovations after every show !! So now I am faced with this problem .. after watching it so close to “final show” .. how can I make my review seem relevant and not repeat what all the reviewers have been saying … let me try ..

Firstly, I have not seen the original La Cage at Broadway but I have seen the movie adaptation of “Birdcage” which starred Robin Williams and Nathan Lane. It was a very memorable movie and it really opened my eyes into the colourful and extravagant world of drag and homosexuality. Mind you that was in 1996. In “Birdcage (the movie),” the chemistry between Robin Williams and Nathan Lane was excellent. I wondered how Ivan and Eusoff would blend together considering I do not think they have done much together but yet are very distinguished actors in their own right (and own country). Boy oh boy .. the chemistry was magical !!

The set of La Cage was beautiful with many bright lights and a great use of the whole depth of the stage to create an illusion of space. I felt like I was magically transported to a “cabaret show” during the “showtime” scenes. There was also very clever use of sets to create the living room / powder room / sidewalk / restaurant parts. The costumes were also dazzling and created a greater atmosphere especially those worn by Ivan and the Cagelles.

The Cagelles were very good in their dance routines especially during the “burlesque” routine with the chairs. That was wonderful. They seemed so graceful … twirling around performing cartwheel after cartwheel .. ending in splits all over the place .. ALL IN HEELS !!!!! I can just imagine the amount of hard training they had to undergo to perfect those various dance segments.

The cast of La Cage was star-studded. The main leads were of course Ivan Heng and Tony Eusoff. Major supporting cast included Hossan Leong, Aaron Khaled, Tan Kheng Hua and Seong Hui Xuan. Other cast members were Darius, Karen and Judee (all ‘Tan’s), Andrew Lua and Brendon Fernandez.

 Ivan Heng and Tony Eusoff really blew me away. Their on-stage chemistry was flawless and they made all other cast members just fade away. We have all of course heard and seen Ivan in action and would expect an excellent performance out of him. As for Tony, I have been privileged to see him perform in KL several years ago and he is one of the brightest star in Malaysia theatre. I have several friends in Malaysia who would just swoon whenever his name is mentioned. He can act and he has a rich and beautiful singing voice. Of course it also helps that he is very ‘kacak (malay for good-looking).’ I hope he does more collaboration with Wild Rice so that we Singapore viewers can see more of him. In La Cage he showed his full repertoire. He sang happy boisterous songs, a heartfelt serenade (with a French undertone) and a really soulful piece which brought tears to my eyes.

Ivan was yet again fantastic in his roles as “ZaZa,” as a “mother” and as a “male figure.” His singing was again beautiful and moving especially in his “solo” song .. all alone right in the middle of the stage before breaking down. You could see many in the audience reaching for their tissues at that point. My funniest moment was when Ivan came out and spoke as if introducing a show .. his comments about “needing money to promote his musical career in US” really hit home !!! At the end, when he walked out … all clad in white .. the look on his face as he looked at Tony .. could melt the hardest of rocks !!!

It was all the scenes with Ivan and Tony together which really swept me away. It was as though they were really lovers .. so natural … so non-fussed .. so carefree.

Hossan provided many of the laughs in his role as the butler / maid. Aaron Khaled to me seemed a bit subdued and held back. He could have been a bit more expressive. Tan Kheng Hua was her usual chirpy self however she seemed a bit strained as well. Hui Xuan played her part well .. her dance scene with Aaron was her major scene and she was very graceful. (I have commented in my earlier review of Spring Awakenings about how she stood out as someone to watch for the future) All the others played their minor, cameo roles fairly well.

As mentioned above, the problem (a good problem I guess) is that in the presence of Ivan and Tony working together so flawlessly, everyone else is just there to add that slight amount of “frosting” to an already delectable slice of cake.

I really urge all of you to watch this. The show must end this coming Saturday (4th August 2012) For those who loved it .. heck .. watch it again. I am trying to find time in my schedule to watch it again. .. watch it and ‘open your eyes’ … see how beautiful love can be between two men … at the very least … watch it and enjoy how wonderful our local theatre can be … you will be amazed .. we have our own “Robin Williams” and “Nathan Lane.”

Wild Rice … you did it again .. you truly deserve your accolades …

Friday, July 6, 2012

What does "Boom" sound like ... my review of version 2012...

Review of Boom by Sight Lines Production

Where : DBS Arts House
When : 8pm, Thursday 5th July 2012
Sight Lines Production has taken the Singapore arts scene by storm. And guess what .. this is only their second production. Boom comes hot on the heels of TrainStopping which was showing in early May. Some production houses take at least half a year to produce something at this scale .. and Sight Lines just do it in 2 months. Good job guyz ..

Boom was previously staged in 2008. I was unable to watch it then so am not able to compare the two. However the 2012 version is very good. Everything came together to make Boom v.2012 into a very polished piece of Singapore theatre.

Firstly, it was good to see the hall packed to the rafters. I guess this may be due to the fact that almost 80% were students. Boom is an “O” and “N” level literature text so this gives the opportunity for the students to see-in-action what they have been studying… from a book into a full-out play. I wished I had such opportunities last time when I was doing “An Inspector Calls” during my “Os.” If even a quarter of these students grow up to further their careers into the Arts, it will be good for the local arts scene. However, on the flip side, some of them still need to learn the common courtesies of the theatre .. such as keeping comments to themselves .. keeping quiet while the play is running etc.

When I first walked in .. I noticed the set. It was very much industrial and cold … it was a wall of grey looking segments .. it was only later that I realised it was glass. Not to reveal too much .. all I can say is that the set was the highlight for me. How it worked to heighten the experience of the various scenes. Everything else moved around (front and behind) this “glass wall.” There was very clever use of lighting to accent moments .. I specifically like the sudden switching off effect !!! (complete with loud “CLICK.”) With such a “small” stage, there was a need to also use sounds to create atmosphere and throughout the play, if you listen carefully (and when those around were not talking / commenting) you can hear sound effects which highlight what is being acted. A very big “well done” to the staging / set / lights / sound crew !! The transition of sets looked “automatic” and seemless !!

Now to the acting .. the cast of Boom (v.2012) is not the most ‘famous’ of local cast such as Ivan Heng or Karen Tan or Siti Khalijah but few of them are veterans in their own right. There were 3 main actors .. Andrew Lua, Fanny Kee and Erwin Shah Ismail. And 4 supporting actors … Vincent Tee, Amanda Tee, Benjamin Kheng and Engie Ho.

Tthe acting was good with strong stage presence, clear delivery of lines and distinct show of emotions. Andrew played his roll well as the son and property agent .. one thing is that he seemed to have only happy and sad expressions. Extreme ends with nothing in between. His expressions does not have varying degrees of sadness or happiness. When he was running around .. enjoying the “good life” … same joyous expression .. when he was upset about his mother .. when he was having the final fight with his mother .. after he was “visited” by his father .. same expression of pain and agony. As for Fanny, she was very good in her role as the mother and you could at times also feel her emotions in her acting but to a certain extent, again very extreme expressions. I personally felt that there was quite a bit of “over-acting” at certain parts. Maybe this was the artistic direction to ensure that the audience is able to “feel the pain and the hurt.” Just my opinion. As for Erwin, I have seen him in Spring Awakening and most recently Romeo & Juliet .. he played his role as a civil servant well. BUT not really very fitting to my perception of a ‘scholar.’ I expected more strait-laced … more internal strife between doing the right thing and doing what is right. Other than that well done Erwin .. more relaxed this time. (But I wonder how could he be .. his pants looked so tight !! Don’t ask me why I was looking at his pants.) Also he kept looking at me because from where I was seated .. the spot light shone STRAIGHT onto me during the cemetery scenes and I was like the headstone !!! Takut siah !!

As for the supporting cast, Amanda stood out for me. She was confident and played her many roles well. I found Engie to look very glum and stiff. Maybe she is also tired physically. Benjamin was fine and also did well changing between the roles though I felt he was overly enthusiastic at times.

No one person really “stood out” above the rest as generally the standard was overall pretty high. One minor gripe of mine is the use of dialect. I have no issue with using dialect .. however, it must seem to be natural and a part of the conversation .. rather than coming out as though it was forced into the middle of the sentence to give it some local flavour. The dialect at times had a very “English accent” to it. That made the dialect a bit jarring to the ears.

In conclusion, Sight Lines have shown again their innovativeness and creativity and strong direction sense in the re-staging of Boom. For such a young team, we can only hope for more quality productions from them.

So guys and gals .. Boom is a play for everyone .. buried amidst the laughter is a much deeper play .. one which is very well transmitted via this production and do not be surprised if you feel that little tug on your heartstrings as the play goes along.

“Where else would I be ..” ….