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Theater: La Cage aux Folles
by Catey Sullivan
2008-02-13


Playwright: Book by Harvey Fierstein; music and lyrics by James Herman. At: Theatre at the Centre, 1040 Ridge, Munster, Ind. Phone: 219-836-3255; $$36, $40. Runs through: March 9

Over the past 15 years, we've seen James Harms as ZaZa in three different productions of La Cage Aux Folles, Harvey Fierstein and Jerry Herman's galvanizing, hilarious and profoundly moving ode to gay pride and self-acceptance. Whether swooshing through a snappy dance number in a gown of 10,000 bugle beads or quietly strolling across the stage in an impeccably cut Tom Wolfe-white suit, Harms has still got It—it with a massive, boldface capital 'I.'

Indeed, he's only gotten better in tackling the duality of a role that's half drag-queen extraordinaire and half debonair Frenchman-about-town. As ZaZa, the ultimate Miss Thing and star of the musical's titular nightclub, Harms rocks glittery gowns and rhinestone-studded eyelashes like Miss America in ultra-pageant overdrive. As Albin, ZaZa's homebody alter-ego and the loving wife of 'plain homosexual' club owner Georges ( Larry Adams, sonorous of voice and dashing of figure ) , he is endlessly endearing.

It's been 20 years since 'La Cage' debuted ( making the musical the same age, as the rock-solid marriage between George and Albin ) . Directed by Bill Pullinsi, it remains an inspiring, vibrant joy. Herman's music and lyrics and Fierstein's book are an evergreen mix of subversive irreverence, bawdy sight gags and innuendo and soaring melodies. And talk about timely: The show is a razzle-dazzle antidote to the likes of Mike Huckabee and other such election year unpleasantries. Dems in search of a campaign theme song need look no further than the show's flagship anthem I Am What I Am. Harms absolutely owns that first-act finale, starting with a jagged, tearful whisper and building to a five-alarm roar that virtually leaves the stage in flames. Score 500 for the home team.

Based on a play by the same name by Jean Poiret, La Cage centers on Georges and Albin. When their son Jean-Michel ( nicely callow Phil Higgins ) announces plans to marry the daughter of an uber-conservative bigoted prig politician ( Dennis Kelly, whose solo spot in The Best of Times is an instant classic ) , complications ensue.

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Choreographed by Rudy Hogenmiller ( a.k.a. Mr. James Harms ) , La Cage pops with one Follies Bergere-style extravaganza after another. As far as ensembles go, the Cagelles ( and every one deserves mention: Chip Payos, Zach Zube, D. Eric Woolweber, Jackson Evans, Cara Salerno, Stephen Stockley, Brandon Koller, Kelli Morgan, Kent Haina, Cassandra Liveris and Nicole Miller ) unite to create a bona fide jaw-dropper of kinetic grace, infectious energy and I-can't-believe-they-just-did-that-without-gravely-injuring-themselves athleticism. Draped in costumer Nikki Delhomme's gloriously gaudy ensembles, the group looks as fantabulous as it moves.

Kelly's insufferable strutting about as a buttoned-up, deep-fried ass makes a delicious counterpoint to the gorgeous flamboyance of the Cagelles while Ty Perry's fearless plunge into hotpants and limpwristed camp as the aspiring show girl/butler/maid is a hoot.

And finally, a note about Munster: It ain't the moon. You don't even need a passport. We made it there in less than an hour from the Loop. La Cage is worth the drive.

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