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Gender Blending 

by MICHAEL BOWEN & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & n California these days, straight people are getting married by the thousands. Some of them are actually parents, and many of them enjoy musicals. With kissing!





Who do these heterosexuals think they are?





In North Idaho, they're people who seem to be enjoying the extended drag show known as La Cage aux Folles (at Coeur d'Alene Summer Theatre through July 12). In the Harvey Fierstein-Jerry Herman show, two parents move heaven and earth so their son can achieve his dream. It's a story that's been told, movingly, before. And an elder-skewing opening-night crowd seemed not to mind being told that story again -- movingly, amusingly -- in director/choreographer Tralen Doler's production. If one of the two parents happens to like his feather boas and ball gowns, then that's fine by them.





Yet even in the middle of our national debate about gay marriage, what can a glitzy musical about a drag queen's right to a committed relationship and a chance at parenting possibly hope to do? Entertain, mainly. The awareness that generosity, commitment and parental love don't depend on the structure of one's crotch can always slip in by the side door, unnoticed.





As Albin -- the drag queen who wants his son to marry happily, even if the son's fianc & eacute;e is the daughter of right-wing prudes -- Jerry Christakos doesn't spend a lot of time going unnoticed. As Zaza, the star of a gender-blending nightclub revue, he's very much in the spotlight. It's true that Christakos seems relatively subdued, even by the end of "A Little More Mascara," his self-pep-talk about fighting depression by once again strapping on the high heels and fake boobs. Early on, the flamboyance of Nathan Lane (who played the equivalent part in the 1996 non-musical movie, The Birdcage) is missing. But that's just a setup for later on, with Christakos flouncing through nightclub gyrations, ad-libbing wisecracks with front-row audience members, and displaying his step-by-step assembly of a macho swagger (shoulders slumped, legs splayed out) that's hilarious.





As Albin's husband, the more straitlaced Georges, Chris Thompson conveys restraint -- somebody has to keep this nightclub running on time -- as a setup for his own character development. Thompson's royal, operatic tenor dignifies the ballads describing Georges' love for Albin ("Song on the Sand") and Albin's love for their son Jean-Michel ("Look Over There"). The final curtain call has show "girls" clapping enthusiastically for a leading couple that for once is played by two men -- Thompson and Christakos, resplendent in matching suits. They are what they are, and what they are looks great.





& lt;span class= "dropcap " & D & lt;/span & oler scores a direct hit with his choreography, never more so than in the build-up to the first-act finale: Transvestite can-can dancers form kick lines, spin in triple pirouettes, dangle their feet from upraised knees and then detonate the splits over and over in explosions of risqu & eacute; glee that skitter across the stage.





In another sequence, bedecked in Vegas showgirl costumes, Les Cagelles sing, "You'll find it tough guessing our gender." And sure enough, the intermixture of boy-girls and girl-girls in the male (?) chorus underlines how fluid identity is. "Which ones are the real women, and which ones are in drag?" you ask? You might as well inquire into where we ought to bestow our love. When Jean-Michel (Matt Wade, better suited to the nerd he played in All Shook Up than to the romantic lead he plays here) dances with his fianc & eacute;e Anne (Krystle Armstrong, balletic in a clingy teal dress), Doler troops in several chorus members in matching teal outfits. They dance in unison with the main couple, as if to suggest that Jean-Michel might have married him or her or her or him.





Nevertheless, Doler's production drags (!) a bit, overstaying its welcome. That may be because Fierstein's book squanders some of its narrative thrust by broaching the problem of how properly to meet the fianc & eacute;e's conservative parents, then ditching it for several numbers to focus on how loving and committed Georges and Albin are. The let's-fool-her-parents ruse doesn't crop up again until after intermission.





But delights are strewn along the way. Tim Louma, for example, plays Georges and Albin's "maid" as a fussy, caffeinated Chihuahua. Whether he was yelping from offstage in exasperation (or hilarity), indignantly performing menial tasks, or prancing around in his short-short French maid's costume, Louma's jittery narcissism enlivened every scene he was in. (But don't even try calling him a "butler.")





And Christakos' first-act exit song -- the gay-pride anthem, "I Am What I Am" -- burned with intensity: Neither his son nor society at large was going to make him change out of his nylon stockings into some other man/woman than he already is. For the uncloseted, as he says, the world "is not a place I have to hide in."





Albin has already demonstrated that he's capable of great love; now he just has put more effort into loving himself. Indeed, there's a moment in "Look Over There" when Georges reminds his son of Albin's selfless love ("Someone puts himself last / So that you can come first"): a vision of beautifully blended romantic and parental love. Nobody -- gay, straight, or somewhere on the continuum in between -- has a monopoly on loving their romantic partners or their families. We are what we are, says La Cage in its silly-glittery way, and what we are looks great.

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