Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Gay History Milestone?

Tonight I attended a performance of the most recent Broadway revival touring production of "La Cage Aux Folles" at the Bob Carr Theater in Orlando.

Hollywood icon George Hamilton was slated to be one of the lead actors in the role of Georges but in this 6:30 pm Sunday evening showing, the finale for Orlando, he was replaced by Dale Hensley, who normally plays the much smaller role of stage director Francis.

I love George Hamilton (I don't really know why, I guess it's because I thought he was fantastic in the disco-themed 1970s comic send-up of Dracula in "Love at First Bite") and I was really looking forward to seeing him perform tonight, but after all is said and done, I guess I didn't miss him that much.

Of course the Playbill's insert announcing the cast change didn't explain why the change was needed (it never does). I heard an audience member behind me joke that he (Hamilton) had to go and work on his tan. And with the non-stop rainy weather we've been having this past week here in Central Florida, I'd be inclined to agree. We all know George mustn't let his famous bronze complexion turn ashen. Oh my, it might tend to reveal his true age...gasp!

His replacement, Dale Hensley, was the first on stage as our master of ceremonies Georges, welcoming us to his "transvestite club" (as it would have been known years ago) "La Cage Aux Folles". Immediately, I was not impressed. He seemed stiff and unsure. As the show progressed through the first act, he seemed actually to get worse as he stumbled through some of his lines in one scene and broke out into a big ol' greasy-looking flop sweat during his first and second musical numbers.

But during his vocals in "With You on My Arm", I could visibly see the nervousness lift. And it was magical. Suddenly, and thereafter, his whole performance improved dramatically. His voice slowly became more loud and clear and found its strength; much needed with the crappy Bob Carr Theater's inferior acoustics and inadequate sound equipment. Please, let's not get into how bad this place is...I'm anxiously counting the days until the new arts center, currently under construction a few blocks away, opens.

But the show stopper was undeniably Christopher Sieber in the role of Albin. Seiber has the comic sensibility, and heart, both of which are vital to this role. Not to mention, of course, the vocal range and volume to belt out these songs in true drag queen diva fashion. In fact, knowing now, thanks to Google, that he'd performed the role of Georges for years up 'till recently stymies me. He was MEANT for the role of Albin. And especially, the creature inside of Albin, the amazing Zaza. Seiber's performance of "I Am What I Am" could probably only be arguably better done, IMHO, by the legendary author of the lyrics himself Harvey Fierstein.

Of course Harvey's signature raspy voice couldn't truly do service to the notes required, but it's the implication behind the meaning of the song. It's with that in mind when I think that, after all is said and done, I may have been lucky to be in attendance during a performance as tonight's with the casting as is.

I am of those that feel that the true emotion of what it is to feel discrimination and the pressure to conform, some of the main themes of the production, can only truly be conveyed by those of us who are of the same ilk. That is, gay. Unless you in real life are gay, how can you not only fully "act" it, but also "feel" it for the audience?

Christopher Seiber is openly gay. George Hamilton is implicitly straight. So Hamilton's portrayal of Georges, the gay lover of Albin would have been an act, on stage and, arguably, in the heartfelt embodiment of personal experience in reality. Dale Hensley, Hamilton's stand in, may well be gay. I haven't been yet able to confirm it. But I got that feelin'.

If Hensley is gay, the coupling of him and Seiber may (I have to check it out further) but MAY be the first time these iconic gay stage characters have been portrayed by two actual gay men.

Hmmm, will Orlando go down in the gay history annals (or is it "anals"? LOL) as the city which hosted the first truly gay production of "La Cage"?

Gay Days just isn't enough!

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