Uptown’s La Cage sly, intoxicating, enchanting

Albin and Georges have been a couple for a long time, Georges being the emcee and Albin a drag headliner at the gay nightclub: La Cage Aux Folles (The Birdcage?). Jean-Michel was the illegitimate son that resulted from Georges’ fling with a straight woman, and Albin and he have raised and loved him till he was a fine and genuine young man of character. At the outset of La Cage Jean-Michel explains to Georges that he has fallen in love with a beautiful young woman named Anne, and though she has no trouble with Albin (Jean-Michel’s “mom”) her parents are ultra-conservative. Distasteful as it may be, he asks his father if Albin could possibly be elsewhere, while Anne’s parents come for a visit? This premise is but the beginning of their troubles, when they find they must conceal their unorthodox spousal arrangement for the sake of their son and his delightful fiancee’.

Who might have guessed that Broadway would positively go gaga for theatrical adaptations of popular films? Often (unlike cinematic remakes and adaptations) the shows created are better, if not at least as good as the originals. The Producers, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Thoroughly Modern Millie come to mind, the weaknesses and anachronisms omitted, the narrative painted and polished, the content more salient and distilled. Such is the case with La Cage, a story that has undergone numerous incarnations since it premiered as a play by Jean Poiret. The French film got by on a great deal of camp humor, which felt like pandering. As if the world needed yet another condescending depiction of the gay community, encouraging straight people to assume we’re all caricatures of bitchy effeminacy. The stage musical (Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman, Book by Harvey Fierstein) eliminates much of this, while preserving theatrical drag as entertainment, and respecting those of us who evince a bit more towards anima than animus.

Queer or straight, anyone who’s lived long enough (and smart enough) understands that even the most exotic “lifestyles” aren’t all that strange, if you stop and think. You also learn that whatever your predilections, respect and warmth trump everything else. Uptown Players’ production of La Cage Aux Folles captures some of the subversive, shadowy side of drag with the charm of female impersonation as simultaneous send-up and homage. The tender, ironic romance of Albin and Georges is celebrated with humor and sincerity, and the foibles of our insane, ridiculously gender-polarized world is skewered with finesse and absurd precision. Jean-Michel and Anne are adorable ingenues without the ickiness, and Anne’s parents surprise us just perhaps enough. Director Cheryl Denson has taken a familiar comedy with its good points, and transformed it into something extraordinarily moving, memorable and intoxicating.

Uptown Players presents La Cage Aux Folles, playing Bastille Day through July 30th, 2017. Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Boulevard, Dallas, Texas, 75219. 214-219-2718. www.uptownplayers.org

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