Ballad of Follies de Mwah
LONELY Planet, no less, says: “The best of the city’s tranny stage shows take place at the opulent Club Mwah!, an incredibly shiny, sparkly and simply fabulous place with obvious Las Vegas interior-design influences. Manila’s gay expats give it a huge thumbs-up.”
Before that supportive community found Club Mwah! (Boni Ave., Mandaluyong City), the resident company, Follies de Mwah, performed to mostly empty seats for more than a year, giving new meaning to “dry run.”
That was nine years ago. Today, the club and the company are known among seekers of “the best tranny show” in Manila for “Bedazzled”—a stunning, polished and stylish presentation featuring both gay and female performers. (Part of the pull is the guessing game.)
“Bedazzled” is constantly evolving—new cast members, new sleek numbers with each incarnation, the latest of which is “The Club Mwah! Show” at the Newport Theater of Resorts World Manila. The gig is a dream come true, says Cris Nicolas, Club Mwah! president, creative director, choreographer, stage director, costume and set designer, lighting director and, he insists, “a total performer.”
Anyone—locals, tourists, show biz celebrities, politicians, religious leaders (swear to God), barangay officials—who has seen any edition of “Bedazzled” has seen Cris onstage and very likely wondered aloud, jaw-dropped and amazed, who/what exactly they were watching. That’s because as an impersonator, we might add, he is world-class.
How did you decide to build and operate Club Mwah!?
It was a dream that consumed me—a place where I could stage my own shows. I used to send talents to Japan as a promoter. But when there were no more job opportunities for performers there, I decided, against all odds, to open my own theater club.
Aside from your business partner Pocholo Malillin, who helped you launch Club Mwah!? How easy was that?
It’s been just the two of us from the start. It wasn’t easy at all.
Apart from me, there were 18 gays and six girls.
You elevate lip-synching to the level of performing art. How long have you been doing this?
You might say my serious performances started with Club Mwah!
Who were your first idols?
My idols, then and now, are the one and only Diana Ross and the incomparable Patti LaBelle.
Your choice of songs for impersonation numbers is very sophisticated. How did you acquire the taste for that?
I’ve always had good taste. I never settle for cheap.
How’s your own singing voice?
Which of the artists you impersonate is the most challenging?
Patti LaBelle. And when I take her on, I go for broke.
Does anyone help you train the cast and crew?
I do everything.
You’ve changed your cast several times. Are your performers already professionals when they come on board? How do you pick your stars?
With every edition of “Bedazzled,” it’s like going from A to Z for me. One must have perpetual patience. When they come to Club Mwah!, most of them can dance but have not been professionally trained. Some used to be talents that I sent to Japan.
What are the biggest challenges of being a producer/director/mentor/employer?
Creating and conceptualizing production numbers. I do a lot of research on costumes, sets and lights. Picking the songs is extremely difficult, too.
What is your dream for Follies?
I pursue one dream at a time. This Newport contract is one big dream fulfilled.
Why was the title of the show changed to “The Club Mwah! Show” for Newport?
Just to distinguish it from “Bedazzled.” Also, there’s a lot of new numbers that I was inspired to create to fully utilize the Newport stage. It’s huge!
You have kept Chaka in the company from the very beginning. How many other pioneers are in the present cast?
Apart from Chaka, there’s Victoria, Koko, Aya, Mia, Ara, Jasmine, Enzo.
Where did you find Chaka? (He doesn’t fill your height requirement.) Who are your current stars? Which performer do you regret losing along the way?
Chaka is an old friend from my Japan days. In Follies, everyone feels he/she is the lead performer. (Pocholo and I are the only real stars of Club Mwah.)
I don’t regret losing any one of those performers who left the group. There are 92 million Filipinos; I need only a handful. Performers are not born; they are made. I just continue training and developing the talented ones who want to work with me.
Your costumes are all meticulously designed. How do you achieve this?
I am not embarrassed to say that I have a flair for opulence, class and “fabulosity.”
What motivates you when whipping up new numbers with each edition of “Bedazzled”?
My aim is to outdo myself each time. The audience should leave the theater raving.
(“The Club Mwah Show” repeats at Newport Theater in Resorts World are set tomorrow night January 2 at 8 p.m., then January 31, February 21, March 14, April 18 and May 23.)