BWW Interviews: The Canuck of LA CAGE - Jeigh Madjus
La Cage Aux Folles has been dazzling audiences at Toronto’s RoyalAlexandraTheatre for the past four weeks, and today BWW is catching up with the resident Canadian in the production, Jeigh Madjus. Jeigh plays Jacob, the over the top and quirky butler to George Hamilton and Christopher Sieber.
La Cage Aux Folles tells the story of George (Hamilton), the manager of a saint-Tropez nightclub that features drag entertainers, and Albin (Sieber), George’s partner and star of the nightclub’s shows. When Georges son announces he is getting married and asks his father to pretend to be straight in order to gain his fiance’s family’s approval, the show begins to examine difficult issues surrounding being loved for who you are and being accepted by the people who matter most to you.
Jeigh Madjus has been in the theatre business for many years and recently had a successful entry in the New York Music Festival with the hilarious musical Prison Dancer. La Cage Aux Folles marks his US debut, and he talks to BWW about his love of Toronto, having the ‘home-turf’ advantage and the importance of always being exactly who you are:
You’re wrapping a year with La Cage Aux Folles. How’s it going so far?
We’ve had great crowds every single night. I think out of the entire tour Toronto has been in the top five cities in terms of consistently great audiences. It always varies but this city has really welcomed us.
This show marks your US stage debut – what has the experience been like for you?
The year has been amazing . I was so excited to go perform in the States and it was on my bucket list to get down to NYC and be on Broadway, so this takes me one step closer to that goal. It’s been great exploring the country and seeing how people in different areas interact, and especially amazing seeing how accepting people are of our show. Going to the States has also made me appreciate Toronto so much more. Being born and raised here I always wanted to leave and go somewhere ‘better’ like New York or LA, but being away has made me realize just how much I love it here.
It’s also been great being the only Canadian on the tour and having my colleagues become my family. We’re living together, eating together, playing together – we’ve become really close.
Do you feel like you have a certain ‘home-turf advantage’ being the only Canadian on a Toronto tour stop?
A lot of people thought it was going to be like that! There were jokes about how I would be a local celebrity, but when we got here no one really knew I was from Toronto. At the opening night party people kept asking me how I was enjoying the city and many were shocked to learn I was from Toronto.
I’ve noticed that my character and some of my moments have gotten a larger response here, but that could just be because Toronto is a city that is very cultured and more accepting of gay humour. Overall it’s been great being home and a dream to perform on a Mirvish stage.
You play the most over the top character in a show with a lot of over the top characters. What has the response been like to your zaniness?
There’s been a lot of debate about the role because people have compared me to other’s who have played it before and I’m trying to set myself apart. When I started working with our director Terry, I was worried I would be clubbed into Robin DeJesus’s shoes. But when we started rehearsing Terry made it very clear that this was a completely different show with a new cast and is now ‘my’ role. It was a clean slate for all of us and I love the fact that I was able to fully explore the character of Jacob.
Some people see it as being over the top, some thing it’s hilarious and some don’t care – but I’m having a blast. I looked at Jacob and examined his background and where he was from and that was actually how we came up with the idea to have him have a Filipino accent. Originally he didn’t have an accent, but when you consider a butler in Saint Tropez in the seventies – he wouldn’t have been from North America. Even George Hamilton thought it might be fun to try the role with an accent, and now it works.
What’s next for you?
I’m definitely staying in Toronto for the rest of the year but I still don’t know what I’m going to be doing next year. I’m open to anything, I just want to perform. I would like to be able to audition in New York and in Toronto, and audition for films as well. I did a movie called Servitude which was just released on DVD, so now that I have a reel I hope it will open some doors for me.
Since you play such a quirky character, do you think it helps project an image that it’s ok to be different? Have you had anyone approach you with their own stories of being different?
I have heard stories from other productions of this show and they’re all really heart-warming. One example was a couple who had disowned their son because he was gay, and then when they saw the show it urged them to call him and rebuild the relationship. We hear a lot of stories like that and it’s amazing when you think about the impact we can have. For a lot of people the experience of seeing this show about drag queens and transgendered people have a full house of 2000 people cheering and applauding them – it makes you proud and happy to see them being accepted in that manner.
The amazing thing about our show is we have George Hamilton who is so old-school Hollywood, and here he is kissing another man. I’ve even had straight men admit to loving the show when the wives had dragged them there. I think a lot of people are afraid of what they don’t know and then that fear goes away once they see us or meet us afterwards. Hopefully it’s helping to eliminate the barrier that people usually put up against the LGBT community.
And has it been nice being back in Toronto where we are more accepting of gay issues?
It has been! Though it’s interesting – often the really conservative people are the ones who let go and enjoy the show the most. It’s great to see them having a good time because everyone should be able to laugh and enjoy this show.
What would be your biggest piece of advice for people trying to make it in this business?
My advice would be to not let any idea of what you should be cloud or change how you are. Just be yourself. There are so many people who are trying to change themselves to be exactly what they think people want – but it’s usually when you’re just yourself that you’re the most open and free. I would also say that everything happens on its own timeline, and timing really is everything in this business. And breathe – always remember to breathe.
When and Where?
La Cage Aux Folles
On Now Until November 18th
Tickets range from $35 to $130 and can be purchased in person at the box office, by phone at 416-872-1212 or online at www.mirvish.com.