Gay characters are no unchartered territory for seasoned actor George Hamilton. In fact, this veteran sees no impediment to acting, not even his tender age of 72 or the physical challenges of performing live city to city. This fall, you can see him as Georges, the gay Saint-Tropez club owner in the Tony Award winning revival ‘La Cage aux Folles’, opposite Christopher Sieber, who plays his life partner and the club’s queen diva, Albin, or Zaza onstage.
“You get to an age where, as an actor, you know it’s either time to hang it up or you better double up. It’s time to either really get into the best shape of your life, or put on your slippers and talk about what you used to do. And I felt, what is the hardest thing I ever did? It wasn’t making movies. It came from having to show up in a theater every night. It wasn’t Broadway. Broadway was easy. It was the road,” Hamilton said during a press junket for the musical’s Cleveland stop.
So maybe, there are a few big hurdles, the pressures of performing in various theatre houses nightly, and four times more on weekends, constant memorizations and the need for punctuality, plus the pressures of looking good and staying fit, but ‘La Cage’ was all worth it.
“I wanted to do something musical,” he said, but not just any musical, a musical that features “some of the most incredible music ever”, as he puts it. Singing to Jerry Herman’s compositions, whose other works include ‘Mame’ and ‘Hello Dolly!’, was the deciding factor for him, that and the fact that Kelsey Grammer and Gene Barry have also played the role in the past.
With his tons of industry experience, the unconventionality of ‘La Cage’s’ theme and the possible controversy it may generate doesn’t faze him. “It’s a family show. It’s a show about being who you are, and about love…There’s a goodness about this thing,” the actor says. “There’s a lot of things in America we’ve bit off but we’ve not been able to chew. We will only grow stronger as we are able to digest. The thing about all this is, I’m not in it for the purpose of trying to defend. I’m in it for the values that the structure of the play and the characters offer, and the bigger, more universal theme,” he further explains.
As mentioned in the beginning of this piece, gay portrayals are no stranger to Hamilton. In fact, his past portrayals of such characters have been praised by the late Vito Russo in the documentary ‘The Celluloid Closet’, which tackles the various portrayals of homosexuals on screen. Hamilton’s portrayal of the title role in the 1981 comedy ‘Zorro, the Gay Blade’ was described as one that “possesses style, defiance and freedom”, and one in which “there is no cruel edge to the humor, which more often than not sends up people’s ideas about gay stereotypes instead of using them to wound.”
Even simple theatre enthusiasts, gay or straight, have no problem with Hamilton getting his glam on in ‘La Cage’ or in his previous projects. “I got nothing but good notices. People got it. And the gays wrote me letters saying, yes, it was broad, yes, it was farce, but it was done with affection and kindness,” he said.
For him, the material doesn’t and should not solely dictate the tone of the entire production, it is also the actor’s responsibility to carry that tone in a manner that will not infuriate audiences, but instead, let the universal and more important themes, and messages surface. “I walked a line that was one of conciliation, not to try to stir up controversy. And when people think of George Hamilton playing this character [in La Cage], they will see it the same way,” he said.