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La Cage aux Folles (musical)

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La Cage aux Folles is a musical with a book by Harvey Fierstein[1] and lyrics and music by Jerry Herman.[1] Based on the 1973 French play of the same name by Jean Poiret, it focuses on a gay couple: Georges, the manager of a Saint-Tropez nightclub featuring drag entertainment, and Albin, his romantic partner and star attraction, and the farcical adventures that ensue when Georges's son, Jean-Michel, brings home his fiancée's ultra-conservative parents to meet them. La cage aux folles literally means "the cage of mad women". However folles is also a slang term for effeminate homosexuals (queens).

The original 1983 Broadway production received nine nominations for Tony Awards and won six, including Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book. The success of the musical spawned a West End production and several international runs. The 2004 Broadway revival won the Tony Award for Best Revival, the 2008 London revival garnered the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Musical Revival. The 2010 Broadway revival was nominated for eleven Tony Awards, winning the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical. La Cage aux Folles is the only musical which has won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical twice and the only show that has won a Best Production Tony Award (Best Musical or Best Revival of a Musical) for each of its Broadway productions. A National Tour, based on the 2010 revival, began in October 2011 with George Hamilton as Georges and Christopher Sieber as Albin.

Background Edit

Allan Carr, who had produced the successful film adaptation of Grease (1978), was eager to work in theatre and thought a musical version of the hit 1978 film La Cage aux Folles would be an ideal vehicle for his Broadway debut.[2] However, he was unable to secure the rights to the film and was forced to settle for the rights to the original play only.[3] Carr hired Jay Presson Allen to write the book and Maury Yeston to compose the score for The Queen of Basin Street, an Americanized version set in New Orleans. With Mike Nichols set to direct and Tommy Tune on board as choreographer, Carr searched for executive producers and found them in Fritz Holt and Barry Brown, who immediately fired the entire creative team that Carr had assembled. All of them eventually filed lawsuits, but Yeston alone won and later collected a small royalty from La Cage.[4]

Holt and Brown had produced the 1974 revival of Gypsy: A Musical Fable directed by Arthur Laurents, and they approached him with an offer to direct their new venture. Laurents was not a fan of drag or camp entertainment and thought Holt and Brown never would find enough investors to finance a gay-themed project at a time when, during the early years of the AIDS epidemic, homophobia was more intense than ever.[5] He agreed only because Holt and Brown were close friends and he wanted them to remain on Carr's payroll as long as possible, but his interest grew when he learned Harvey Fierstein and Jerry Herman had committed to the project.[6]

According to Laurents, when he met with Fierstein and Herman for the first time, they had restored both the title and locale of the original play but had neither a script nor even an outline for the plot. All they had was the Herman song "I Am What I Am," and Laurents immediately envisioned it as an emotional outburst sung at the close of the first act. Laurents further claims that when he explained his concept to Fierstein and Herman, he inspired the direction they took in writing the musical.[6] Herman tells a very different story in an interview included in the original cast CD. He claims that they were well into the collaboration when Fierstein arrived one day with an emotional fiery scene he had written for the end of Act I that included the words "I am what I am." Delighted, Herman asked to use the five words, boasting he would have a song by morning, which he did. With gay-activist Fierstein and the political Laurents on board, the show could have "become a polemic diatribe on gay rights."[5] However, Herman was a moderating influence. Having suffered a series of disappointments with darker-themed shows since 1969, he was eager to score a hit with a mainstream, emotional, optimistic song-and-dance entertainment that middle-class audiences would enjoy.[5] The team opted to create "a charming, colorful, great-looking musical comedy - an old-fashioned piece of entertainment," as Herman recalled in his memoir Showtune.[7] By "delivering their sentiments in a sweetly entertaining manner", the team was able to convey their gay-themed message with more impact than they could have with a more aggressive approach.[8]

Fierstein, Herman and Laurents met daily in Herman's Manhattan townhouse to work on the musical. Because they were limited to using only the Poiret play as a source, they were unable to include the character of Jean-Michel's birth mother, who had been created for the film. They focused the plot on the fact that the relationship of Georges and Albin seems so natural that the boy is able to accept a man as his "mother".[9] The three men agreed that Albin needed to be as glamorous an entertainer as possible, and Theoni V. Aldredge was hired as costume designer to achieve their goal.[10]

The producers agreed to a Boston tryout, and just prior to the second preview (the first was cancelled due to problems with the mechanized set),[11] Herman had a panic attack prompted by his fear that the city probably was too conservative to embrace a gay-themed musical, albeit one designed for a mainstream audience. The Boston crowds gave the show an enthusiastic reception.[12] Fierstein, Herman and Laurents were also concerned that this was essentially a love story in which the lovers barely touched each other. Fierstein suggested they kiss on the cheeks at the end, and Laurents, citing the common custom of French men kissing each other on both cheeks, agreed.[13]

George Hearn as Albin had the showier role and many of the big musical numbers. His character was fully drawn, and behind the drag performer, the audience could see "a person driven to take a stand for himself – a notion that all people could relate to."[8] In contrast, during rehearsals, everyone had supported firing Gene Barry, who was considered adequate but never outstanding as Georges, but finding a replacement proved to be difficult. Finally, just before opening night, Laurents directed him always to look into Hearn's eyes, whenever the two men were on stage, so the audience would sense the depth of the couple's feelings for each other. The director also had Georges introduce the various club acts with more of a flourish, "like an aria that will land like a musical number." Both of these last-minute stage directions enabled Barry to get a better grasp of his character.[14] Barry went on to get a Tony nomination for Best Actor in a musical for his efforts, Co-Star Hearn took home the trophy.

According to theatre historian John Kenrick, La Cage aux Folles helped make the 1983 Broadway season an especially strong one. He noted that following La Cage and Big River in 1985, for "the first time since Oklahoma!, a full decade would go by before a new American musical would pass the 1,000-performance mark."[15]

Synopsis Edit

Act I Edit

Georges, the master of ceremonies, welcomes the audience to his St. Tropez drag nightclub, "La Cage aux Folles". The chorus line known as Les Cagelles appear and introduce themselves to the audience ("We Are What We Are"). Georges and his "wife", Albin, have lived happily together for many years in an apartment above La Cage with their "maid" Jacob. Albin is a drag queen and the star performer of La Cage aux Folles under the alias of "Zaza".

As Albin prepares to perform ("A Little More Mascara"), Georges' 24-year-old son Jean-Michel (the offspring of a confused, youthful liaison with a woman named Sybil) arrives home with the news that he is engaged to Anne Dindon. Georges is reluctant to approve of Jean-Michel's engagement, but Jean-Michel assures his father that he is in love with Anne ("With Anne on My Arm"). Unfortunately, her father is head of the "Tradition, Family and Morality Party", whose stated goal is to close the local drag clubs. Anne's parents want to meet their daughter's future in-laws. Jean-Michel has lied to his fiancée, describing Georges as a retired diplomat. Jean-Michel pleads with Georges to tell Albin to absent himself (and his flamboyant behaviors) for the visit - and for Georges to redecorate the apartment in a more subdued fashion. Jean-Michel also asks Georges to invite Sybil, who has barely seen him since his birth, to dinner in Albin's stead. Albin returns from the show to greet his son when Georges suggests that they take a walk ("With You on My Arm").

Georges takes Albin to the Promenade Café, owned by Monsieur and Madame Renaud, where he attempts to soften Albin's emotions before telling him of Jean-Michel's request ("Song on the Sand"). Before Georges can break the news to him, Albin suggests that they hurry back to La Cage to make it in time for the next show. They arrive in time and Albin takes the stage once more as Zaza ("La Cage aux Folles"). While Albin is performing, Georges and Jean-Michel quickly redecorate the house. While Albin is changing for his next number, he notices the two carrying his gowns and demands to know what is going on. Georges finally tells Albin of Jean-Michel's plan and expects Albin to explode with fury, but he remains silent. Albin then re-joins Les Cagelles onstage, tells them to leave, and begins to sing alone in defiance of Jean-Michel, stating that he is proud of who he is and refuses to change for anyone ("I Am What I Am"). He throws his wig at Georges and departs in a huff.

Act II Edit

The next morning, Georges finds Albin at the Promenade Café after his abrupt departure and apologizes ("Song on the Sand [Reprise]"). He then suggests to Albin that he dress up for dinner as macho "Uncle Al". Albin is still upset, but reluctantly agrees to act like a heterosexual for Jean-Michel. With the help of Monsieur and Madame Renaud, Georges successfully teaches Albin to abandon his flamboyancy ("Masculinity"). Back at the chastely redesigned apartment, Georges shows "Uncle Al" to Jean-Michel. Jean-Michel doesn't like the idea and expresses his dislike for Albin's lifestyle. Georges angrily reminds Jean-Michel of how good of a "mother" Albin has been to him ("Look Over There"). They then receive a telegram that Jean-Michel's mother Sybil is not coming and Anne's parents arrive ("Dishes [Cocktail Counterpoint]"). Hoping to save the day, Albin appears as Jean-Michel's buxom, forty-year-old mother, in pearls and sensible shoes. The nervous Jacob burns the dinner, so a trip to a local restaurant, "Chez Jacqueline", belonging to an old friend of Albin and Georges, is quickly arranged. No one has told Jacqueline of the situation, and she asks Albin (as Zaza) for a song, to which he hesitantly agrees ("The Best of Times"). Everyone in the restaurant begins to take part in the song, causing Albin to yield to the frenzy of performance and tear off his wig at the song's climax, revealing his true identity.

Back at the apartment, the Dindons plead with their daughter to abandon her fiancée, for they are appalled by his homosexual parents, but she is in love with Jean-Michel and refuses to leave him. Jean-Michel, deeply ashamed of the way he has treated Albin, asks his forgiveness ("Look Over There [Reprise]"), which is lovingly granted. The Dindons prepare to depart, but their way is blocked by Jacqueline, who has arrived with the press, ready to photograph the notorious anti-homosexual activists with Zaza. Georges and Albin have a proposal: If Anne and Jean-Michel may marry, Georges will help the Dindons escape through La Cage downstairs. Georges bids the audience farewell while Les Cagelles prepare the Dindons for the grand finale ("La Cage aux Folles [Reprise]"). Georges then introduces the Dindons, dressed in drag as members of the nightclub's revue, and they escape the paparazzi with Jean-Michel and Anne behind them. With everyone gone, Albin enters and he and Georges briefly sing of their love for each other before sharing a kiss ("Finale [With You On My Arm/La Cage aux Folles/Song on the Sand/The Best Of Times]").

Characters Edit

  • Georges – Albin's partner, and owner of La Cage aux Folles, as well as compère.
  • Albin – Georges' partner, and the star of La Cage aux Folles as drag queen "Zaza."
  • Jacob – Butler (though he clearly prefers to be called a maid), and Albin's personal assistant.
  • Jean-Michel – Georges' son from a short-lived affair twenty-four years ago.
  • Anne Dindon – Jean-Michel's fiancée.
  • Monsieur Edouard Dindon – Anne's ultra-conservative father, and leader of the Tradition, Family and Morality Party.
  • Madame Marie Dindon – Edouard's wife and Anne's mother.
  • Jaqueline – Georges and Albin's friend and the owner of classy restaurant, "Chez Jaqueline."
  • Monsieur and Madame Renaud – Owners of the Promenade Café.
  • Francis – Stage manager of La Cage aux Folles.
  • Les Cagelles – The drag performers at La Cage aux Folles who also serve as background performers for Zaza.

Productions Edit

Original Broadway production Edit

La Cage aux Folles opened on Broadway at the Palace Theater on August 21, 1983. It was directed by Arthur Laurents and choreographed by Scott Salmon, with set design by David Mitchell, costume design by Theoni V. Aldredge, and lighting design by Jules Fisher. The original Broadway cast included Gene Barry as Georges and George Hearn as Albin, with John Weiner as Jean-Michel, Walter Charles as M. Renaud, Jay Garner as Edouard Dindon, Merle Louise as Mme. Dindon, Elizabeth Parrish as Jacqueline, Leslie Stevens as Anne, and William Thomas, Jr. as Jacob.[16] Among the replacement performers who appeared in La Cage aux Folles during its original Broadway run were Walter Charles, Keene Curtis, Van Johnson, Peter Marshall, Keith Michell and Lee Roy Reams.[16] The original production received nine Tony Award nominations, winning a total of six including Best Musical, Best Original Score and Best Book of a Musical. The show beat several strong competitors in many categories, including Stephen Sondheim's Sunday in the Park with George. It also won three Drama Desk Awards. The production ran for four years and 1,761 performances, closing on November 15, 1987.[16] After the great success of the production's opening night, Herman felt vindicated. He "had nothing else to prove" to his critics and "vowed never to write another show for Broadway".[17]

Musical numbers Edit

Note: Original Broadway production[18]

Act I
  • Prelude – Orchestra
  • "We Are What We Are" – Georges and Les Cagelles
  • "(A Little More) Mascara" – Albin and Les Cagelles
  • "With Anne on My Arm" – Jean-Michel and Georges
  • "With You on My Arm" – Georges and Albin
  • "Song on the Sand" – Georges
  • "La Cage aux Folles" – Albin, Jacqueline and Les Cagelles
  • "I Am What I Am" – Albin

Act II
  • "Song on the Sand" (Reprise) – Georges and Albin
  • "Masculinity" – Georges, Albin, Monsieur Renaud, Madame Renaud and Tabarro
  • "Look Over There" – Georges
  • "Dishes (Cocktail Counterpoint)" – Georges, Edouard Dindon, Mme. Dindon and Jacob
  • "The Best of Times" – Albin, Jacqueline and Company
  • "Look Over There" (Reprise) – Jean-Michel
  • "La Cage aux Folles" (Reprise) – Georges
  • Finale – Company

See also Edit

Notes Edit

  1. 1.0 1.1 Brantley, Ben. "Her Sequins, Plumes and Foghorn Voice", The New York Times, March 28, 2011. 
  2. Laurents, p. 115
  3. Laurents, p. 119
  4. Laurents, p. 118
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Bloom and Vlastnik, p. 176
  6. 6.0 6.1 Laurents, pp. 119-20
  7. Herman, p. 227
  8. 8.0 8.1 Bloom and Vlastnik, p. 177
  9. Laurents, p. 122
  10. Herman, p. 233
  11. Laurents, p. 128
  12. Herman, pp. 239-40
  13. Laurents, p. 121
  14. Laurents, pp. 126-27
  15. History of The Musical Stage 1980s: Part II
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 "La Cage aux Folles". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved August 11, 2009.
  17. Bloom and Herman, p. 224
  18. "La Cage aux Folles (see Songs" Internet Broadway Database, accessed July 1, 2011

References Edit

  • Bloom, Ken and Vlastnik, Frank. Broadway Musicals: The 101 Greatest Shows of All Time, Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers (2004; revised paperback ed. 2008). ISBN 978-1-57912-313-0
  • Bloom, Ken and Jerry Herman. Jerry Herman: the lyrics: a celebration, Routledge (2003). ISBN 0-415-96768-6
  • Herman, Jerry and Marilyn Stasio. Showtune: A Memoir by Jerry Herman, New York: Donald I. Fine Books (1996). ISBN 1-55611-502-4
  • Laurents, Arthur. Mainly on Directing: Gypsy, West Side Story, and Other Musicals, New York: Knopf (2009). ISBN 0-307-27088-2

External links Edit

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