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THEATER REVIEW: George Hamilton, leggy drag queens and a fabulous “La Cage Aux Folles”

George Hamilton may get star billing for the national tour of “La Cage Aux Folles,” but for all his good looks and charm, he has serious competition from at least two other cast members.

Lily Whiteass (Todd Lattimore), in a short black “leather” dress, legs that go on forever and what must be six-inch heels, had been roaming through the crowd before last night’s opening (“La Cage” plays through Sunday at San Diego Civic Theatre).

When we’d settled into our seats, Lily took the stage for a hoot of a warm-up act, including a slam on Orange County (“O.C. stands for old conservatives”) and this comment to a latecomer threading his way through the row: “What’d your ticket say? 7ish?”

But Hamilton’s real competition is Christopher Sieber, whose outrageously flamboyant Albin (aka Zaza) steals the show.

Adapted from the 1973 play, “La Cage Aux Folles” opened in 1983 and took Broadway by storm with nine Tony nominations and six wins, running for some four years. It has since had two revivals, each of which won the Tony for best revival of a musical.

What’s so great about the show? It’s not the topics – gay parenting and feeling free to be who you are. Certainly these are still relevant issues, but no longer as shocking as they must have seemed in the ’70s.

The enduring attraction of “La Cage Aux Folles” is that it’s an old-fashioned musical with good songs by Jerry Herman, real production numbers, eye-popping dance routines (by guys in skirts) and a message of self-acceptance and the importance of being true to oneself.

Here’s the story: Georges (Hamilton) owns a glitzy nightclub in tony Saint Tropez with his partner and star Albin (Christopher Sieber), aka Zaza. Conflict arises when Georges’ son Jean-Michel, raised by these two men, announces that he’s marrying a nice girl named Anne (Allison Blair McDowell) and wants to bring her and her straight-laced parents to meet Georges – but wants the flamboyant Albin to disappear for the duration (Anne’s father is a pro-family, anti-gay politician who has vowed to wipe out clubs like La Cage). Even more insulting to Albin, Jean-Michel wants to invite his biomom.

This is the cue for Albin’s show-stealing, heartbreaking “I Am What I Am,” a paean to self-acceptance and self-revelation which brings down the house as well as the first-act curtain.

Hurt feelings, hilarity, and eventual reconciliation ensue, as the story weaves its way through several good songs and a couple of terrific production numbers, notably “La Cage Aux Folles,” where the six extremely limber dancing-in-drag Cagelles (Matt Anctil, Logan Keslar, Donald C. Shorter Jr., Mark Roland, Terry Lavell and Trevor Downey) begin in a cage and progress through incredibly athletic, gymnastic feats.

It’s all great fun, full of glitz, gams and gags. Sieber is reliably fine in all categories; Hamilton gets away with his singing and dancing deficiencies on his looks and charm. Lowney’s lovely voice almost makes up for his ingrate character’s abysmal behavior, and the invading Renaud family adds an unfortunately relevant touch. Jeigh Madjus is cute as can be as Jacob, the family butler and wannabe stage star, but needs to slow down his lines a bit; they tend to get lost in the rush.

Music director Richard Carsey’s small but fine seven-member orchestra adds the right sound, Matthew Wright’s costumes are great and so is Nick Richings’ lighting.

“La Cage Aux Folles” may be an old warhorse, but it’s still a fun show, perfect for a summer evening.

The details

“La Cage Aux Folles” plays through Aug. 12 at San Diego Civic Theatre, Third and B Streets, downtown.

Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 1 and 6 pm.

Tickets: Click HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.