Broadway veteran Lee Roy Reams, starring in the Wick Theatre’s production of La Cage aux Folles, posted Tuesday on Facebook: “The best of times is now.”
For Reams, who has performed the Jerry Herman classic off-and-on for three decades, the lyric and La Cage have suddenly taken new meaning.
“It’s rather fulfilling now to do the show, especially to come to Florida after gay marriage was just passed here. It brought a whole different feel to the show for me,” said Reams, who co-stars through Feb. 15 as Albin opposite Walter Charles as Georges.
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La Cage, based upon a 1970s French stage show and film, is about two longtime gay partners whose straight son announces he is about to be wed.
Reams, himself, married his partner of 45 years, retired advertising executive Robert Donahue, on Sept. 3.
When the 1983 Herman musical version of La Cage opened Jan. 8 at the Wick in Boca Raton — two days after same-sex marriage became legal throughout Florida — the show took on new relevancy, Reams said.
“I know that when I stood on stage for the first performance it was a different power about the show, only about being here in Florida. To sing the song I Am What I Am, it suddenly took on a different meaning for me being in Florida this time. It was more joyful for me.”
Reams first performed the role of Albin (AKA drag star Zaza) with Charles at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey, just after the original Broadway production closed.
“It was a huge success. They did sell-out business,” says Reams, who has since starred as Albin in productions all over the country.
“I never thought that I would live long enough to see gay marriage passed,” says Reams, 72. “When we were in the Texas area, a few people said you have to be very careful because I go into the audience and participate with the audience as Zaza. They said you have to be very careful with people down here. I said I don’t believe that. People are more accepting than you think. Once they see the show. I’ve never had a problem, knock on wood.”
Reams says he once got a letter from a woman who wrote that three years before “our son told us he was a homosexual.”
“And my husband and I stopped contact with him,” the woman wrote to Reams. “I saw your show last week and we called our son.”
“To me, that was the best review I ever received,” Reams says. “Once people come to see the show, they realize what it’s all about. It’s less about homosexuals and more about being a parent and loving your child and vice versa, and accepting people for who and what they are.”
Reams first appeared on Broadway opposite Gwen Verdon in Sweet Charity (1966), Lauren Bacall in Applause (1970) and Carol Channing in Lorelei (1974) and Hello, Dolly! (1978 revival). He is best remembered for playing the Dick Powell lead in David Merrick’s original 1980 production of 42nd Street, directed and choreographed by MGM dance legend Gower Champion.
During rehearsals, Champion told Reams he was ill with anemia and that his doctors warned him not to do the show. “But he said, ‘Lee Roy, I had to do it because I don’t want to be remembered as a has-been.’”
Champion actually was dying of a rare form of blood cancer.
“He looked so terrific and had energy and did such great work, we never thought it was terminal, that he was going to die,” Reams recalls. “Gower stopped coming to rehearsal. Then we heard he was in the hospital. And it was a shock to us opening night. We did not know. He had died that afternoon. David called the papers and said if you don’t put it in the afternoon editions and don’t announce it, I’ll make the announcement from the stage and allow you to come in and photograph it. A lot of people thought, ‘How can he put you on display?’ I thought it was a brilliant move for a producer to do because we got front-page coverage across the entire country and it also made the show a humongous hit.”
At the opening party, Reams ran into legendary director-choreographer Bob Fosse, who the year before filmed the autobiographical All That Jazz, in which the protagonist played by Roy Scheider dies on-screen of a coronary. “And Bob Fosse came up to me and said, ‘That son of a bitch. I filmed my own death and he had to do me one better, by doing it on opening night.’”