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Universal story told as campy musical comedy

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Packaged as a campy musical comedy dressed in drag and sprinkled with “meet the parents” tension, La Cage aux Folles has delighted audiences through its many iterations the past 30 years.

The Tony and Olivier Award-winning musical hits University of Oklahoma’s Reynolds Performing Arts Center Friday.

“It’s a story of a family, a universal story, where their son has fallen in love and they’re worried about meeting the fiancée, the in-laws,” said Shawn Churchman, who acted in an earlier production of the work and serves as faculty member and director of the production. “This isn’t a show about drag queens.”

Though influenced by the AIDS crisis in the 1970s and ’80s and focalized through a same-sex couple and gay community, the show succeeds due its simple message, Churchman said.

“In the 1980s, we thought we were going to be pummeled or that people would walk out in droves,” Churchman said. “It was shocking how popular the show was, and it’s because it’s not a political show.”

Originally produced in 1983, the musical garnered nine Tony nominations, winning Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book. Later revivals in 2004, 2008, 2010 and 2011 won additional accolades.

The OU theatre production carries a 25-member cast, featuring guest artist and alum Aaron Umsted and student actors Tanner Rose and Aaron Boudreaux in lead roles.

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“[Umsted] has been a very successful OU alum, and it’s thrilling to have a successful alum work with our current students,” Churchman said. “It’s thrilling for them and extremely gratifying for [the faculty] as well.”

The plot revolves around Georges (Umsted), the manager of a drag club and romantic partner of the club’s leading queen Albin. When his son, Jean-Michel, attempts to introduce Georges to his fiancée’s ultra-conservative parents — who just so happen to want the drag club closed — Georges and Albin act the part of heterosexual couple in order to smooth the interaction.

From having nearly 70 outfits for the show’s drag queens to building a passerelle, or catwalk, that extends around the orchestra pit into the audience, there is no shortage of production value.

Print headline: Cagey conundrum, OU’s production of award-winning La Cage aux Folles isn’t a show about queens, though you’ll see everything from sequins and can-can numbers to a drag bar.

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