Back in 1983 when the musical La Cage aux Folles hit Broadway, it was considered brave, daring and downright scandalous. After all, it was the first big musical with cross-dressing homosexuals at its center.
Three decades later, with more than half of Americans favoring gay marriage, the shock is over, and audiences flock to the show for what it is — a heartwarming story of love, tenderness and devotion, with some of composer Jerry Herman's best and most beloved songs: I Am What I Am, Look Over There, Song on the Sand, and the rousing The Best of Times.
The Show Palace Dinner Theatre in Hudson opens its version of the Tony Award-winning musical on Thursday, continuing matinees and evenings through April 20. It's the third time the theater has done the show, with the first two versions (in 1999 and 2003) setting box office sales records.
Set in early 1970s St. Tropez, it's about a longtime gay couple, the flamboyant Albin (Steven Flaa, Hillaire in Can-Can), a female impersonator known as Zaza, and the more sedate Georges (Brian Minyard, Capt. Von Trapp in The Sound of Music), owner of the drag show nightclub known as La Cage aux Folles.
Twenty-five years earlier, Georges had had a drunken one-night stand with a woman, producing a son, Jean-Michel (Kaleb Lankford), who has been reared by his dad and Albin. Jean-Michel, now 24, comes home to announce that he is to marry Anne (Molly Ann Ross), the daughter of ultra-conservative, uptight politician Edouard Dindon (Pete Clapsis, Big Jule in Guys and Dolls), head of the Tradition, Family and Morality Party that has vowed to close down local drag clubs. To make matters worse, Jean-Michel has invited Mr. and Mrs. Dindon (Ellie Pattison, Miss Adelaide in Guys and Dolls) for dinner to meet his "parents," who happen to live above the infamous nightclub in a rococo apartment, complete with tableware featuring naked young men circling each plate.
Jean-Michel insists that Albin disappear during dinner and that his birth mother, who has had no part of his life, be invited instead. The birth mother doesn't show, so Albin substitutes himself, the Dindons become suspicious that all is not what it seems, and all heck breaks loose.
The show is enlivened by Les Cagelles, nine long-legged male/female dancers in over-the-top boas and frills, and by the house boy, Jakob (Patrick Marshall Jr.), who wears scanty briefs, goes barefoot and isn't all that bright.
Director is Karla Hartley, who was named best director in 2009 and 2012 by Creative Loafing magazine for her work at American Stage and the Straz Center. Choreographer is Jill Godfrey, who directed, choreographed and managed stage for the Show Palace's Hello, Dolly. And Show Palace veteran Bill Cusick is music director.