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Out of the Cage

[whitespace] La Cage aux Folles Right-Wing Fling: Conservative politico Dindon (Ray Reinhardt) makes unwitting eyes at drag queen Albin (Lee Roy Reams).

'La Cage aux Folles' is full of gender-bending fun

By Heather Zimmerman

AMERICAN MUSICAL THEATRE of San Jose's newest offering is an entertaining production of Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein's musical adaptation of the gender-bending French farce La Cage aux Folles. Audiences will probably recognize the convoluted comic tale from its many incarnations, which include a '70s French play (and movie) and the 1996 film The Birdcage, with Robin Williams and Nathan Lane.

Georges (George McDaniel) and Albin (Lee Roy Reams) are a gay couple living on the French Riviera. Well-liked members of the St. Tropez community, the couple runs a nightclub, La Cage aux Folles, where female impersonator Albin portrays ZaZa, the star of the club's transvestite revue. Everything goes awry when Georges' son, Jean Michel (James Patterson)--the result of an experimental one-night stand--arrives suddenly and announces his engagement to the daughter of a conservative politician, Edouard Dindon (Ray Reinhardt). The unwitting Dindons invite themselves over to meet their future in-laws, and Jean Michel demands that Georges and Albin "play it straight."

Artifice resonates throughout the play--from the initial illusion of female impersonators to the closet Jean Michel expects Georges and Albin to return to for the benefit of the Dindons, and American Musical Theatre's production adeptly portrays both the spectacle of illusion and its traps. Reams' Albin is a delight to watch--he is at once a diva, a dignified clown and, most importantly, a parent. As Albin vamping it up as ZaZa, his performance allows us to see the transformative power of drag that La Cage explores, but Reams shines even more sans sequins and rhinestones, when Albin is "offstage," trying to do right by his adopted son and still maintain his pride. McDaniels and Reams have a pleasing chemistry that brings a note of genuine poignancy to a generally comic scenario.

On the spectacle side of things, the production enthusiastically seizes upon the theme of artifice--it's excessive in every way, with entertaining results. The (mostly) male chorus tackles some traditional Follies-esque routines with sheer exuberance. Particularly fun is a can-can with more than a little clowning built into it--an expertly goofed scene that's a testament to choreographer Nick Rafello's and the cast's skills.

It's fitting that the song "I Am What I Am" is so anthemic; since its debut in the early '80s, the musical's gender-bending antics are no longer as daring or surprising as they may once have seemed, although the morality police the musical parodies are most definitely alive and well. Above all, La Cage aux Folles simply is what it is--a celebration of acceptance, family and love in the long-standing musical tradition.

La Cage aux Folles plays at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, 255 Almaden Blvd., San Jose; Tuesday-Thursday at 8pm (plus Wednesday, Jan. 27), Friday at 8:30pm, Saturday at 2 and 8:30pm, Sunday at 2 and 7pm (plus Sunday, Jan. 31, at 2pm) through Jan 31; $35-$50; 888.455-SHOW.

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From the January 21-27, 1999 issue of Metro.

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