Chung Sung-hwa plays Albin, or Zaza, in the Korean version of “La Cage aux Folles” currently at the LG Arts Center in southern Seoul.
/ Courtesy of Aga Company
By Kwon Mee-yoo
It took some 30 years for the Tony Award-winning musical “La Cage aux Folles” to come to Korea. The musical, shortened to “La Cage” here, has been warmly welcomed by audiences here, who are captivated by the show’s spectacle.
Premiering on Broadway in 1983, the musical comedy is set in a Saint-Tropez drag nightclub, owned by Georges. His partner Albin is the star of the club with the stage name of Zaza. The middle-aged gay couple’s satisfied life takes an unexpected turn when Georges’ son (from a one-night stand) wants to marry the daughter of an ultra-conservative politician. The musical won the Best Production Tony Award (Best Musical or Best Revival of a Musical) three times.
Lee Gi-na, director of the Korean production, said “La Cage” is a timeless musical; and musical masterpieces have good reasons to become so in an interview with The Korea Times at The Cafe in Yeoksam-dong, southern Seoul, last week. Lee is a famed director here for both homegrown and licensed musical productions. Her hits include “Hedwig,” “Guys and Dolls” and “Seopyeonje.”
“Proven hits like ‘La Cage’ are like strong fortresses and a director of a licensed production has nothing much to do. So I try to keep the original structure and redo the interior for the Korean audience,” she said. One of her touches added to the Korean rendition is the reinforcement of Jacob, Albin’s “maid.”
Played by Kim Ho-young, 29, Jacob is the scene stealer of “La Cage,” captivating the audience with his sassy and wacky character and his wardrobe from lace maid’s dress to Mozart-style costumes and wigs.
While Georges and Albin argue and reconcile over their domestic problem, Jacob runs all over the stage in a pair of 9-centimeter-high heel and babbles about his “mistress.” Though Georges hired him as a butler, Jacob clarifies that he prefers to be called a maid.
“I didn’t know it was so difficult to run in high heels though I had worn them before,” Kim said.
Jacob is often played by an ethnic minority, but it has to be interpreted in a different way in the Korean rendition and the director chose to add perkiness to the show by casting Kim.
It is not the first time for Kim to cross-dress. His theater credits include Angel in “Rent” and Zanna in “Zanna, Don’t!” He might be burdened by misunderstanding since he often plays such gay or gender bender characters, but Kim was excited to face another challenge.
“When I was first asked to take part in ‘La Cage,’ I thought I was going to be offered Albin without knowing that he was a middle-aged character,” Kim said. Jacob might be a small role for Kim’s career, but he did not seem to care about the weight of the character.
“Being feminine or not was not important for me in deciding to play Jacob. I was attracted by Jacob’s witty character,” the actor said. “Some people may think of me as an actress after the show, but it doesn’t matter to me.”
Lee showed an unconditional trust in Kim and mentioned how a clever actor can spice up the show. Together they reshaped Jacob’s character for the Korean production as a clown who omnipotently oversees the show.
“If it were not Ho-young, Jacob’s character wouldn’t be so big in the Korean production. Kim is an actor who inspires a director,” Lee said.
The original Jacob did not have many lines, but Kim’s Jacob is a comic relief of the show with lines he wrote with Lee. They added a song for Jacob by reprising Albin’s song “A Little Mascara.” Kim wrote the lyrics of the song and titled it “A Little Lip Gloss.”
The costumes were inspired by Lady Gaga’s wardrobe, balanced with the romantic atmosphere of Saint-Tropez.
“When I get older, I really want to play Albin someday. I dream of singing ‘I Am What I Am,’ which tells the audience how Albin is proud of himself and he is not wrong, but different,” Kim said.
“La Cage” runs through Sept. 4 at the LG Arts Center in southern Seoul. Veteran actors Nam Kyoung-ju and Go Young-bin play Georges and Chung Sung-hwa and Kim Da-hyun alternate the role of Albin. Tickets cost from 60,000 to 130,000 won. For more information, visit www.lacage.co.kr.