Rich Hamson is no theatrical debutante. His turn in wig and mascara in Bloomington Civic Theatre's La Cage Aux Folles will be his first time onstage in 23 years.
It isn't that Hamson hasn't remained involved in theater, as he works as a designer at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres. "I was just turning 60, and I knew I would love to [act] again. This has always been on a bucket list of things to do. It's also important for people on the other side of the theater world to appreciate what we put people through," he says.
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Hamson and Jim Pounds play Albin and Georges, a couple and longtime owners of a drag club in Saint Tropez. Their world is turned upside down when their son falls in love with a girl (not a problem) whose father is a notorious right-wing politician (definitely a problem).
The various versions of the story -- the original French play and movie, the musical, and The Birdcage -- follow the same general arc, but the musical book writer Harvey Fierstein added his own twists to the telling. The musical also is the only one to feature a Jerry Herman score.
"It's an opportunity for a man to do Mame and Hello Dolly! all wrapped up in one," Hamson says.
Pounds notes that the musical is really two shows. You have the razzle-dazzle show-biz side, and then the middle-aged love story.
When casting, director Joe Chvala quickly looked to the pair as his Albin and Georges.
"I knew Rich was auditioning and Jim was auditioning. I thought they would make a great couple. Sometimes [in La Cage], the couple doesn't work. They had to feel like a family. I wanted two guys that seemed genuinely kind and loving," Chvala says.
"It is nice that we really like each other," Hamson says.
La Cage brings out plenty of challenges for the director. "This show is much more schizophrenic than any show I've done. There is a genuine sweet story of this family, and there are the Cagelles numbers," Chvala says.
Les Cagelles, the all-male chorus line at the club, has gotten most of Chvala's attention as choreographer, but the leads have their moments on the dance floor, too.
"I have to do the can-can. I am 60," Hamson says. Albin's alter-ego, Zaza, is the star of the club.
Pounds, playing the less fabulous Georges, also puts on his dance shoes: There's the soft-shoe number the pair share early on, and the finale when he gets his chance with the Cagelles.
So how much of their characters are inside the actors?
"If I truly let myself go, I know I can be a drama queen, and that is easy to draw on. I know about being in a long-term relationship, so that is easy. The hardest part is landing the bitchy bitterness of some of the lines," Hamson says.
"We're both in 30-plus-year relationships, so we know how that mellows and becomes a different kind of thing over time," Pounds says.
And while the world is quite different than it was in 1983, when the musical debuted, the show still has currency.
"Yes, we have the right to marry, but in places in this country -- or in southern Minnesota -- this would still be an issue," Hamson says.
"Even beyond the marriage issue, it is just about the right to feel flamboyant. The story could be told from the past, but I don't see that happening in our lifetime," Chvala says.
IF YOU GO
La Cage Aux Folles Friday through February 15 Bloomington Center for the Arts 1800 W. Old Shakopee Rd., Bloomington $27-$34 For tickets and more information, call 952-563-8575 or visit online.