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Never a drag

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[Times photo: Joseph Garnett Jr.]
The Show Palace Dinner Theatre in Hudson stages La Cage aux Folles.

By BARBARA FREDRICKSEN
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 2, 2003


Love and happiness come full circle in La Cage aux Folles. This classic comedy keeps a high-spirited edge.

HUDSON -- Broadway musicals have always had their share of men dressing up like women, such as Luther Billis in South Pacific and Pseudolus in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. But Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein's blockbuster musical, La Cage aux Folles, was the first musical with openly gay lead characters.

The big, splashy show was a huge hit, with 1,761 performances after it opened in 1983, but it wasn't the homosexuality that made the show popular; it was Fierstein's warm, funny story and Herman's moving and thoughtful songs.

When it first ran at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre in 1999, it set an all-time attendance record and became the theater's most-requested encore.

Owners Nick and Sal Sessa are bringing the show back with a new cast and crew that includes theater veteran Michael L. Walters in the lead role of Albin/ZaZa, the headliner at the drag queen club, La Cage aux Folles.

Walters, who played the part at Orlando's Mark Two Dinner Theatre recently, calls it his "all-time favorite role."

In La Cage, the flamboyant Albin has had a longtime monogamous relationship with the club's owner Georges (Jerry Gulledge, who played Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady and Cervantes in Man of La Mancha).

All is well until Georges' son from a drunken one-night fling shows up with the news that he's engaged to the daughter of the country's most gay-bashing politician, Edouard Dindon (Bobb James, Governor in La Mancha).

The son, Jean-Michel (Tyler Fish, Crazy for You) wants his dad to "act masculine" and to persuade his birth mother to pretend to live with them as a family when he brings his future in-laws to call. Most of all, Jean-Michel wants Georges to banish his longtime lover, Albin, in order not to offend them.

Albin, who has been the young man's surrogate mother all his life, is crushed.

"La Cage is a love story, the tale of a marriage of 20 years almost ruined by a son's thoughtlessness," playwright Fierstein once said.

In the love song Look Over There, Georges reminds his son of Albin's lifetime devotion to him. It is one of the two most moving moments in the show, the other being Albin's gay-pride anthem, I Am What I Am, a real crowd-pleaser.

Of course, the well-laid plans go awry, and comic chaos breaks out when Albin tries to help. It all ends with a classic comic flourish and the joyous The Best of Times.

The show, directed and choreographed by John Leggio, is sparked by the Cagelles, a high-kicking chorus line of women and female impersonators in glamorous costumes.

* * *

PREVIEW: La Cage aux Folles, Show Palace Dinner Theatre, 16128 U.S. 19, Hudson, Friday through Feb. 16. Shows are at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 1:30 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays; 3 p.m. Sundays. Doors open two hours before each show for double buffet and cash bar. Dinner and show, $37.50; show only, $26.45; ages 12 and younger, $19.95 and $14.95, plus tax and tip. Call 863-7949 in west Pasco; toll free 1-888-655-7469 elsewhere.

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