"No," said ABC's Sam Donaldson at last night's premiere of the musical "La Cage aux Folles," "this is not a Washington show.

"It took me about 20 minutes to decide it was all right to laugh and like it," he said. "Then I decided it's okay when the old queen says something funny, to go 'Ha, ha,' rather than 'Hmmm.' "

Maybe it was the transvestite chorus. Maybe it was the sight of two men singing of their love for each other, although rarely touching and never kissing. Maybe it was the mockery made of a political group called the Tradition, Family and Morality Party. Whatever it was, while most of the National Theatre audience of social, political and media Washington applauded frantically, some seemed to be squirming in their tuxedos.

"Very interesting," said an edgy Sen. Paul Laxalt (R-Nev.) of the show during intermission. "A little confusing. I'm just trying to get my moorings."

White House National Security adviser Robert McFarlane paused when asked his opinion. He contemplated. He brooded. He contemplated and brooded so long you could have negotiated an arms deal with the Soviets during the silence. Then he spoke.

"You should ask my colleague Mr. O'Leary," he said, referring to Washington Times reporter Jeremiah O'Leary. "He's another Marine, so he might give you the same answer."

Other responses varied. Channel 9's Gordon Peterson told Ted Koppel of ABC's "Nightline," "I'll give you 20 if you do it tonight in drag."

"I'll give you 50," replied Koppel.

Conservative columnist Robert Novak, well aware of the role he was expected to play, cried "I was shocked!" and walked off laughing. His wife Geraldine laughed too and then added, "It was fun."

For Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), who had seen the movie "La Cage" twice, the show was "a little educational. It makes the old straights from my generation think a little."

Once the show was over, guests like actresses Karen Akers and Lynda Carter, CBS' Lesley Stahl and Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor got to make the kind of entrances any actors or Washingtonians would envy, walking into the Departmental Auditorium for dinner through an arbor studded with small lights and a shower of bubbles spewing from a machine somewhere up above.

Not all that many Washington parties have ostrich feathers decorating the tables or a 20-foot-tall female-esque statue in red beads at the entrance, but the 650 guests of The Shubert Organization, which books the National Theatre, handled everything like the experienced party-goers they were. In fact, with their beaded silks and puffed-up hair, they seemed determined to assist the show's costume designer in creating a new definition of opulence.

Standing in front of the statue for a picture with Akers, Carter and "La Cage" costar Peter Marshall, the other costar, Keene Curtis, compensated for his diminutive stature by first teetering on his toes and then joining the beaded figure on its platform.

"We didn't know what to expect tonight," he said. "In every city there are different audiences. What people don't realize is it's about two homosexuals; it's not about homosexuality. It's really preaching the Christian virtues even if they don't know it -- love, fidelity, consideration. Do you think Falwell will come and see the show?"

Well . . .