The Best of Times Is Now,” sings drag queen Albin in the Harvey Fierstein/Jerry Herman musical “La Cage Aux Folles.” And that couldn’t have been more true last Friday night at the opening of Bloomington Civic Theatre’s stellar production.

Unlike the French film of the same name and the American adaptation, “The Birdcage,” both of which are farces, the musical is a deeply felt romantic comedy.

It celebrates rather than makes fun of the central relationship of Albin and Georges, the owner of the nightclub where Albin performs. Their son, intent on marrying the daughter of a right-wing politician, tries to force his fathers back into the closet, with painful results.

Fierstein has created a book full of good camp humor and a great deal of heart. Herman’s songs are reminiscent of the golden age of Broadway, a worthy successor to his scores for “Mame” and “Hello, Dolly!”

Director Joe Chvala stages the production with pizazz, but grounds it in heartfelt emotions. His choreography dazzles, but there’s enough wit to inspire laughter.

Music director Anita Ruth ably conducts the small ensemble, and she plays a mean accordion.

Richard Hamson is best known these days as a costume designer. (He is the resident costumer at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres.) He makes Albin an over-the-top character, frequently appearing to be channeling Joan Crawford, and he handily steals the show.

But he also gives the production its soul. There are moments when he is achingly vulnerable. And his rendition of “I Am What I Am” reeks of betrayal and pride.

As Georges, Jim Pounds brings a warm, romantic baritone to the love songs, and he expresses the dashing impresario and the loving father.

Pounds and Hamson make their characters really seem to be a couple who’ve been passionately loving and bickering for more than 20 years. The scene where Georges tries to “butch up” Albin is a comic tour de force for them both.

Young designer Benjamin Olsen’s set is a lavish affair that beautifully captures the elegant milieu of St. Tropez.

With his costumes, Ed Gleeman proves the adage that nothing succeeds like excess. In the title song, he has the Cagelles, the drag chorus, costumed as exotic tropical birds. They solidify the wit and good humor of the whole production.

 

William Randall Beard is a Minneapolis writer.