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Democrat Jim Dabakis will play a stuffy conservative in Pioneer Theatre’s staging of ‘La Cage aux Folles’

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sen. Jim Dabakis speaks at a Utah Senate committee hearing in 2018. The former Utah state senator, and Salt Lake City mayoral candidate, will play a rigid conservative in Pioneer Theatre Company's concert production of the musical "La Cage aux Folles," set for March 15 and 16, 2019.

For one weekend in March, Jim Dabakis — a former Utah state senator and Salt Lake City mayoral candidate — will get to be a senator again. This time, the longtime Democrat and gay activist will work the other side of the aisle.

Dabakis will take the role of Monsieur Dindon, a stiff-necked conservative lawmaker, in Pioneer Theatre Company’s concert production of the musical “La Cage aux Folles.” The show will be performed March 15 and 16 at Pioneer Memorial Theatre, 300 S. 1400 East, on the University of Utah campus. PTC announced the lead cast members this week.

The musical, which premiered on Broadway in 1983 and won the Tony for best musical, showcases the songs of Jerry Herman, with a book by Harvey Fierstein. It’s based on the 1973 French play of the same name — which was made into a beloved 1978 French movie, and inspired the 1996 American remake “The Birdcage” with Robin Williams and Nathan Lane.

“La Cage aux Folles” tells of Georges and Albin, a gay couple who live upstairs from the drag club where Georges is the emcee and Albin, under his drag persona Zaza, is the star. Their lives are upended when Georges’ adult son Jean-Michel breaks the news that he’s getting married to Anne — whose father, Edouard Dindon, is the head of a conservative political party that is determined to close all the drag clubs. (In “The Birdcage,” Gene Hackman played the conservative lawmaker.)

Jean-Michel hasn’t told his future father-in-law about Georges and Albin, so the couple must pretend to be heterosexual to keep the lie going.

“I can’t tell you how grateful I am that Pioneer Theatre Company lets me be on the stage with actors,” Dabakis said in an interview. He will sing in one group number, “Cocktail Counterpoint,” but doesn’t have any solo numbers, “which is good for the audience,” he said.

Dabakis said he saw a Salt Lake Acting Company production of “La Cage aux Folles” in 1989, and “I was totally transformed to a whole different world. … I was naive, and I didn’t really understand drag queens. I was in my own little bubble. [The musical] brought me to a place that only the best theater can bring you.”

The idea that a gay couple would have to hide their sexual identity may seem dated to some people in 2019, but Dabakis said going back to old stories can be educational. He cited last year’s New York revival of the 1968 play “The Boys in the Band,” then a theatrical landmark in depicting gay lives.

“It’s uncomfortable to watch that in the eyes of 2019,” Dabakis said. “But it is such a wonderful lens to go back to that moment in time. … It helps people today, especially young people, recognize where we’ve come from.”

Jamison Stern, a Broadway actor who starred in PTC’s 2003 production of “Ragtime,” will return to play Albin. James Patterson, another Broadway actor, will portray Georges.

Salt Lake City native Klea Blackhurst will take the role of Jacqueline, a restaurant owner and friend to Georges and Albin. Blackhurst — best known in theater circles for her one-woman show about Ethel Merman — made her PTC debut in “The King and I” when she was 10 years old. Her last PTC appearance was in “Chicago” in 2006.

Dabakis previously appeared at PTC as the narrator in the 2014 and 2015 concert stagings of “The Rocky Horror Show.” That show, like “La Cage aux Folles,” is staged with scripts in hand, with limited costuming and an onstage orchestra. The series, modeled after the Lincoln Center “Encores” shows in New York, is aimed at giving life to lesser-performed theatrical gems.

Azenberg will direct and choreograph the production. Patrick Holt is the costume designer, Helen Gregory is the musical director, and Aaron Spivey is the lighting designer.

Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, March 15 and 16, with a 2 p.m. Saturday matinee. Advance tickets range from $25 to $40, with prices going up $5 each on the day of the show. Go to pioneertheatre.org for tickets and information.

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