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Marriott Theatre stage shines with funny 'La Cage aux Folles'

When I first heard Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, IL, was kicking off their 40th anniversary 2015 season with one of Broadway's all-time biggest comedy hits, "La Cage aux Folles," I knew they had the perfect madcap stage adventure for audience fun.

This is the 11-time Tony Award-winning musical, the first to win Best Musical three times, which inspired the hit 1996 film "The Birdcage" starring Nathan Lane and Robin Williams.

Despite the musical's storied history, it's not often produced for large scale productions because it has extensive involved costuming and, of course, lots of pricey wigs.

This new run at Marriott Theatre, which plays through March 22, captures all of the heartwarming and poignant moments, while exploding with fantastic outrageous humor, music and fun for all.

Based on the 1973 French play by Jean Poiret, it features music and lyrics by Jerry Herman and a book by Harvey Fierstein. Multi-Jeff Award nominee Joe Leonardo manages to direct all of the goings-on with seamless expertise to keep the two-and-a-half hour one-intermission production prancing along every step of the way.

"La Cage aux Folles" stars Jeff Award-winners Gene Weygandt as Albin aka nightclub headliner Zaza and David Hess as his biz and life partner Georges, who owns the legendary "La Cage aux Folles" show.

The musical direction by Ryan T. Nelson flows beautifully for the movement provided by the Marriott debut of choreographer Melissa Zaremba, who capably uses every inch of the Marriott's "theater-in-the-round" space.

Set against the glitzy background of a St. Tropez nightclub, Georges and Albin are faced with the dilemma when Georges' son Jean-Michel, played by Bryan Bohr, decides to marry the daughter of an ultra-conservative politician and now must introduce his non-traditional family to his fiance and her family.

While I knew actor Hess had a long history playing the role of Georges, I admit when I first heard the casting announced, it was hard for me to wrap my mind and imagination around stage favorite Weygandt, for the famed "in-drag" role. Weygandt is the same guy who played our own Region writing claim-to-fame Jean Shepherd in the stage musical "A Christmas Story" a few years ago. But as soon as I observed Weygandt in the first scene, wigged and rouged, I knew he was made for high-heels and faux hysteria, both mandates for his character.

Besides the kaleidoscope of beautiful costumes by Nancy Missimi, the great score includes "The Best of Times," "I Am What I Am" and "The Song on the Sand."

Add the fun Susan Moniz as racy restaurateur "Jacqueline," and it's perfection.