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Marriott's 'La Cage' embraces the gaudy and the grand

★ ★ ★ ½

The 1983 Broadway musical "La Cage aux Folles" is a debatable paradox. It can be seen in equal measures as gaudy and grand, daring and dated.

Conservatives will blanch at the defiantly pro-same-sex marriage stance, while policiers of politically correctness may dismay at the depiction of many gay characters as limp-wristed drag artistes. Whatever your opinion of "La Cage aux Folles," the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire kicks up plenty of fabulously designed dresses and high heels for an enjoyable new production of the six-time Tony Award-winning musical featuring Jerry Herman's tuneful and reprise-heavy score.

Director Joe Leonardo and choreographer Melissa Zaremba team with costume designer Nancy Missimi to apply plenty of sequined flash and gender-bending allure to this tale teeming with drag-filled production numbers. Leonardo also works well with his cast at the tender nontraditional family moments that all but preach tolerance and acceptance.

"La Cage aux Folles" is based upon the 1978 film version of the same name that would also inspire the 1996 Americanized adaptation "The Birdcage." The plot hinges on the gay couple Georges (David Hess) and the more flamboyant Albin (Gene Weygandt), who are pressured to play straight by their 24-year-old son, Jean-Michel (Brian Bohr). The reason is Jean-Michel's fiancee, Anne (Elizabeth Telford), has politically connected right-wing parents (Fred Zimmerman and Anne Gunn as Mr. and Mrs. Dindon) who have campaigned to shut down the seedy titular French Riviera nightclub run by Georges and Albin.

Hess and Weygandt bring an honest weariness of a longtime couple who know their day-to-day routines to a tee. True, that weariness sometimes bleeds over into their nightclub performances... But the grounded characterizations feel genuine and true -- particularly Weygandt, who makes Albin's effeminacy come off as second-nature rather than camped up for laughs. He's also wonderfully defiant delivering the Act I closing anthem "I Am What I Am."

Several other supporting roles are expertly filled by the rest of the ensemble, especially the performers who play the high-energy drag dancers known as "Les Cagelles" (particularly Jordan Fife Hunt as the whip-wielding Hanna).

There's no denying that "La Cage aux Folles" helped break societal taboos years ago with two middle-aged gay men as its central romantic couple. Nowadays, with the ongoing debate over same-sex marriage, the show feels particularly relevant and timely.