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Forty Tony Years of ‘La Cage aux Folles’

At the 37th annual Tony Awards in 1984, the landmark, ground breaking La Cage aux Folles won six Tonys including Best Musical.  The triumvirate of gay men who brought the first main stem musical centering on a gay couple each won a Tony – Harvey Fierstein for Best Book, Jerry Herman for Best Original Score, and Arthur Laurets for Best Direction of a musical.

La Cage ran for 1,761 performances; has been revived on Broadway twice in 2004 and 2010; and has joined the pantheon of legendary Broadway musicals.  However, it’s success and acceptance by main stream audiences was far from certain.  Forty years ago, the AIDS crisis had become an epidemic and the backlash of blame and hate by conservatives and evangelical Christians towards the gay community was ferocious.  But in the end, it turned out that everyone does love a love story and love conquered hate just as it does in the musical.

Forty years ago at the Tony Awards, a seductive pizzicato music vamp beckoned to the audience present and the millions watching at home on television, “…to open your eyes.  You have arrived at La Cage aux Folles!”

 

It’s hard not to love an incredible opening number with gorgeous costumes, a clever costume change, and fabulous choreography. (The original casting notice in Variety said, “Wanted: men who can tap dance in high heels.”)  But how would audiences react when the gay couple actually express their love for each other?  That’s a whole other kettle of bouillabaisse.  Gene Barry, the original Georges, went on The Merv Griffin Show and performed the love ballad “Song on the Sand” which he sang to Albin eight times a week.

 

What audiences weren’t prepared for was the Act One finale.  Forced back into the closet when their son plans to bring his fiancée and her very conservative family to their home, Albin’s pain of betrayal and shame comes out in a tidal wave. “I am What I am” was everything the LGBTQ Community had felt for decades and Jerry Herman expressed it in a defiant anthem for the ages.

 

There is nothing like the optimism of a Jerry Herman song.  It’s hummable, singable, and never looking back lifting audiences up to the rafters of the theatre.  Stepping in as “mother” when his son’s biological mother no shows,  Albin’s love for him and a sense of performance brings out “The Best of Times.”  Douglas Hodge won the Tony for Best Lead Actor in a Musical in 2010 for his deeply human Albin in the second revival.  Just watch him work the room and you’ll see why.

 

Four decades later, La Cage aux Folles remains as current, poignant, and revolutionary as ever.  It’s unfortunate that we seem to be headed back to a world of hate and homophobia like when it opened on Broadway.  But when we are setback or feel down, we have the lessons of love and acceptance in La Cage that can bring change and its brilliant inspiring songs to keep us going and ever forward.

 

Read our previous Pride Month 2024 posts:

“Proud Out Loud! – PRIDE 2024”
“Gilbert Baker’s Gift of Pride — The Rainbow Flag” 
“Make Your Voice Heard and Vote with Pride”
“Music of Pride – The Classics” 
“Amber Riley visits “MacArthur Park” for Pride: VIDEO”
“Pulse Massacre 8th Anniversary Remembrance” 
“Lady Bunny is Fired Up for ‘Hot Troll Summer’ Shows”
“Podcast: Pro Wrestler Comes Out, Pride Month TV + More” 
“Music of Pride – Broadway” 

 

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