Book by Harvey Fierstein
Music & Lyrics by Jerry Herman
adapted from the play of the same title by Jean Poiret

INFO:

Opened at the Palace Theatre    August 21, 1983    1,761 performances (Often revived, twice on Broadway in 2005, and 2010, for 433 performances.
Original Director: Arthur Laurents
Original Choreographer: Scott Salmon
Original Producer: Allan Carr, Kenneth D. Greenblatt, Marvin A. Krauss, Stewart F. Lane, James M. Nederlander, Martin Richards, Barry Brown, Fritz Holt
Original Leads: Georges: Gene Barry    Albin: George Hearn
Cast Size: Male: 7    Female: 3    Ensemble: 12 “Cagelles”, plus townspeople, a total of about 20    Total Cast Size: About 30
Orchestra: 25 (There seems to be an orchestration for 8 available through Sam French, unless I misunderstand their listing. This does seem possible to me.)
Published Script: Samuel French
Production Rights: Samuel French
Recordings: Three cast albums exist, The Original Broadway, the 2010 Broadway, and the original Australian.  I like the 2010, it’s through, and Kelsey Grammer is very good.
Film: None.
Other shows by the authors: Herman: Milk & Honey, Mame, Hello Dolly, Mack & Mabel
Awards: Nominated for 9 Tonys, winner of 6, including Best Musical, Book, Score, Actor (Hearns), Direction (Laurents). Revived in 2005 on Broadway and was niminated for four more, won Best Revivial of a Musical. Revived in 2010, nominated for 11 Tonys (!), won 3 including Best Revival of a Musical. The only show to win Best Musical 3 times at the Tonys, I’m petty sure.

WHO SHOULD DO THIS SHOW:

This is a large show, with a big cast and a large orchestra, lots of costumes, sets, and production values. Only well-supported companies can do it. It is not for kids, the dialogue and material revolves too heavily around sexual banter. Best perhaps for colleges and universities, large regional theater companies, perhaps some Dinner Theaters and stock companies streamlining the casting and production requirements, and it works well for Broadway and the West End, of course.

Be Warned:

Well, the show heavily features men dressed in drag singing and dancing, more-or-less passing themselves off as women. It is all in fun, but there you have it. So if that’s not your cup of tea, select another show.

This show receives a lot of production, so you may want to see if 1) rights are available, and 2) whether or not it’s been done recently in your area, before deciding to do it.

THE STORY: (Outline from Wikipedia)

ACT ONE: 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 TWO: 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 fiancé, 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 papparazzi 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]“).

THE SONGS:

“We Are What We Are”, “Mascara”, “With Anne On My Arm”, “Promenade”, “Song On The Sand”, “La Cage Aux Folles”, “I Am What I Am”, “Masculinity Lesson”, “Look Over There”, “Dishes”, “The Best Of Times”

Hits include “I Am What I Am”

MY OPINIONS:

As always, feel free to ignore or skip my opinions and rating. Just like they all do, birds of a feather…(sigh)

I will be a bit hard on this show, as I feel it is not quite as good as it could have been. Just bear in mind that I do like the show. I don’t love it, but it’s on this site and recommended for various reasons.

This is one of those shows where the script is better than the score. Considerably better, I’m afraid. Mr. Fierstein’s contribution, based on the play by Jean Poiret, is funny and touching. There are many, many laugh lines, the kind that will get any audience laughing and, what’s more, rooting for the characters. That’s because Mr. Fierstein had the wisdom to trust the characters and story, and to allow the humor to flow from them. (In as opposed to unrelated gags, schtick.) The two lead characters are utterly charming in varying ways, particularly the role of Georges. He is one of the most loveable creations in all Musical Comedy. Albin is a bit more strident, perhaps, but in Act II, does and says things that are so loving and delightful that he, too, becomes impossible to not accept – regardless of the audience – so long as they are paying attention and giving the show some sort of a chance.

That is, of course, the concern with a show where many men dress up and perform as women. It’s interesting, in Rent, where the cross-dressing character Angel is modern and the implications are sexual, the audience seems to have absolutely no problem accepting him. (At least, the kind of audiences I’ve seen, those who attend Rent.) In La Cage, which starts with a chorus of 12 men and a few women, all dressed as women and intending to create a confusion as it states in the lyric, I think the cross-dressing can be a bit more upsetting for an audience approaching the proceedings with some rigidity. But the entire play deals with accepting people for who they are and what they do, not what they wear, and not even for their gender or their concept of gender, and so the opening number can be seen as necessary. It establishes the theme. If I were authoring the show, I’m not certain I would have started it this way. The love story of Georges and Albin is entirely winning. I think I would have started there and eased into a number like the opening, even though “We Are What We Are” is a big, loud, energized opening.

And so we come to the score. There are some fine songs in it. I particularly enjoy “Masculinity”, it really makes me laugh. “Song On The Sand” is fine, a reasonably effective ballad. “Look Over There” is actually the best love song in the show, warm and moving. “The Best Of Times Is Now” is a lovely, touching song at first, that unfortunately builds into this show’s big, rousing anthemic tribute to life – Mr. Herman’s oldest and most worn-out trick. “Dishes” (or “Cocktail Counterpoint”) is a funny idea, but the fugue is musically an unprofessional jumble, all noise, all mess. I guess that’s the joke, but it makes me long to listen again to “Soon”/”Now”/”Later” from A Little Night Music, to be reminded how this can be done in a far more musical and intelligent manner.

The songs for La Cage are typical work by Jerry Herman, a songwriter I do not enjoy much, and this score is not quite as memorable as his earlier giant hits, Hello, Dolly and Mame. The score works best when it is closest in tune with the book. But much of the score is pedestrian, workable and that’s all. (These are my opinions, remember.) One longs for the deft touch of a deeper lyricist and composer throughout much of La Cage, and wonders how great it might have been with a superior score.

I have to say that the Tony Awards, giving this show Best Musical over Sunday In The Park With Georges (Sondheim, Lapine), were clearly wrong. La Cage is hardly a work of transcendent art, and its aspirations are artistically not very high. But is it worth doing? Sure! La Cage is a sweet, fun, interesting and entertaining show, a nice challenge for a company and its performers, rewarding for most audiences. It really is about family more than anything else. Like March Of The Falsettos, and a another (and I think more interesting) Musical from the 80s, it presents homosexuals raising children, and doing a fine and human job of it. It’s message is, ultimately one of actual family values – that the love of a parent for a child, and the sacrifices made on that child’s behalf, are genuine and to be respected, regardless of the make-up if that family or the nature of the parent. As Forest Gump might say, family values are as family values do. La Cage is a sweet and fun show about a real family.

MY RATING: * (A better-than-average and interesting show, right for many groups.)

PRODUCTION CONCERNS AND IDEAS:

DIFFICULTY OF MUSIC:

The music is generally rather simple, even simplistic at times, for theater, straight ahead, with predictable changes in tempo and predictable key changes. It is a relatively easy score, in terms of musicianship. The Musical Director must play well, though, with energy and commitment.

In casting Les Cagelles, and Albin, remember the must sing as men and as “women”, and their ranges, accordingly, must be considerable. I’d watch closely during auditions for vocal strain in the upper register and in falsetto. If the male singers who will be singing “female” roles can’t get their voices up there comfortably and with stability, they really will struggle with this show and may well lose their voices by opening.

Georges – Baritone with a sweet voice, warm, likeable, accessible. A pleasant mid-range, some high notes. Sure to be cast for acting first.

Albin – Lyric baritone with a stellar falsetto (like a mezzo), a strong voice with a belt, rangy. Must be able to sing with comic ferocity.

Jean-Michel – Lyric baritone, the romantic ingenue with a clear, youthful voice.

Jacob – Lyric baritone.

Edouard Dindon – Baritone, mostly a comic actor who carries a tune. Some harmonizing.

Anne – Soprano, not much singing. A good, clear voice, able to harmonize.

Francis – A spoken role.

Jacqueline – Mezzo, warm belt.

Mdm Dindon – Soprano, able top harmonize, and sing with a character-driven voice.

The Las Cagelles – About 10 men and 2 women, all able to belt in mid ranges, to sing “low” like men, and “high” like women. Rangy roles, some harmonization, good belts and energy required.

Company – Other French people. All must sing well, harmonize, belt to some degree.

DIFFICULTY OF DANCE, CHOREOGRAPHIC CONCERNS:

A show with some distinct and interesting dance numbers. They are generally performed in a rather interesting club in a certain corner of town, and the movement should reflect this. Their purpose, as stated in the lyric, is to confuse, and to entertain. You’ll want your women in the Cagelle numbers dancing like women, sort of, and your men to dance like women, sort of. There should be a lot of glitz, a lot of show, a lot of display of anatomical parts both real and contrived.

A Choreographer will probably be involved in the staging of “We Are What We Are”, “La Cage Aux Folles”, “Masculinity Lesson”, “Dishes”, and “The Best Of Times”.

The numbers performed by the La Cagelles include “We Are What We Are”, and “La Cage Aux Folles”. These are “show numbers”, almost faux Vegas showgirl kind of movement, but with a French twist. They should include a tease – who are the men, who are the women? They should be high energy fun. It is, in fact, key to the show’s success that these numbers be fun! Any message they communicate need not be “pointed” or hit on the head. People go to the club for a party, and it should feel like one. (And you can famously reveal which sex is which by removing the men’s wigs at the end of the opening number, to dispense with that mystery, and do so as the last choreographed move in the number.)

“Masculinity Lesson” is a very funny number where Georges, a gay man, tries to teach Albin, a cross-dresser, to walk and move like a manly-man. He is assisted gradually by their various friends who offer advice and support. Comic timing is everything to a number like this one. The bits should be staged to within an inch of their lives. I think it should stop the show. The clear dichotomy between how these men walk and talk in real life, and their movies-inspired fantasy male behavior, should be a great, big laugh. The song does act as comment on stereotypes as well, reversing much of the show’s assault on the audience to accept the gay characters and their lifestyle. A great idea well-constructed.

“Dishes” is a fugue at a dinner table performed by seven increasingly panicking people. It’s a musical hodge podge whose only humor is found in Jacob’s final blurp at the end of each stanza. Les “choreographed” and more staged I think, as the hysteria and discomfort of two worlds colliding grows.

“The Best Of Times Is Now” starts out as a really lovely ballad, sung by Albin alone. It then builds into “Hello, Dolly” and “Mame”, a big, loud, cake-walk inducing full-company romp calculated to demand a standing ovation from an audience. (Perhaps if the audience stayed in their seats, people would stop writing these kinds of numbers?) It sadly has little or nothing to do with the story being told, and serves as an unfortunate distraction from it very late in the show. Somehow, keep Albin and Dundin at the focus, as opposite poles in the proceedings, Albin gradually taking command of the stage, Dundin slowly growing darkly suspicious. The focus of this number is key to it feeling like a part of the show, rather than a “show-stopper” inserted in the 11:00 slot strictly for the purpose of providing a big number before the show ends. Make the song mean something to the story. Work closely with the Director on this number.

The show requires an experienced Choreographer of Broadway material, a bit in the Fosse tradition.

CASTING CONCERNS:

Georges – 40s-50s. Handsome, cultured, dryly amusing, impatient at times, professional when he is at work. A complex, rich character who is ultimately very likeable, even loveable. He loves where he chooses to love, but he is far from blind to consequences. A smart man, street-wise in a way. Clearly an attractive man, given his history. Cast for acting, type, voice, some movement, in that order. A star.

Albin – 40s-50s. Neurotic, anxious, but deeply loving. Vain beyond words, a performer who loves his audience as they love…um, her. A wonderful and scintillating performer “on stage” as Zaza, electric, dynamic, winning and fun. Not beyond a comic nervous breakdown when things do not go his way. Cast for voice, acting, type, some movement. A star.

Jean-Michel – Late teens – 20s. Handsome, a straight arrow in every way. Obviously raised well, smart, bright. But he is young and foolish, and is through most of the play willing to sacrifice the people who loved and raised him on the altar of youthful love, which renders him not very likeable. This changes at the end, when he grows up finally, so he must be capable of change. Cast for voice, type, acting.

Jacob – 20s-40s. Usually cast Black. The butler…um, maid. Flamboyant, wildly over the top emotionally, in dress and movement, in every way. A strong and somewhat fearless comic performer who understands abrupt, dry humor. Cast for acting, type, voice, some movement.

Edouard Dindon – 40s-50s. Stodgy, up-right, edgy, capable of playing emotional hardball. Often too direct for good taste or manners to excuse. Opinionated, rigid. Cast for acting, type, some voice.

Anne – About Jean-Michel’s age. A bright, healthy, girl-next-door type (in France), with a sweet disposition, who dearly loves Jean-Michel, and who is not beyond disciplining her own parents when they get out of hand. Cast for type, acting, voice.

Francis – 20s-40s, the stage manager. A man more sinned against than sinning. Seen to be progressively bodily injured by the love of his life, a man dressed as a woman and carrying a whip. A strong comic actor required. Cast for acting, type.

Jacqueline – 30s-50s, famed restaurant owner. A clever woman always keeping an eye out for an opportunity, a grand hostess as well. Cast for type, acting, some voice.

Mdm Marie Dindon – A bit younger than Dindon, his wife. A bit flighty, nervous, but more concerned by far for her daughter’s happiness than he is, and though she plays the dutiful and yielding wife most of the time, there is a little bit of steel in her. At the end, shown to be a ravishing and sexy woman in her own right. Cast for type, acting, body (yup), movement, voice. Get this role right.

The Las Cagelles – Probably all 20s-30s. 10 men, 2 women, and you must provide each a unique act, a stage schtick if you will, as well as a unique personality backstage, so they do not blend and become a mass. Cast strong actors who sing and dance well, and the men should, um, look good in a dress…

Company – Other French people, of varying ages from 30s up. Cast for types, voice, some movement.

SETS:

This show, more than most, is reliant on strong design work. The feel of La Cage, of that part of France, must be ever-present.

There are numerous settings indicated in the show. The most important is the stage and backstage area of the club, and the apartment above it, where Georges and Albin live. I think the “stage” area could easily be played on the apron of a proscenium stage. The entire proscenium arch could be decked out as the “La Cage” stage, rendering everything that takes place on stage a part of the “show.” Lighting could help make that area theatrical, and the main drape can be used a a part of the set, with a logo and what have you. The “offstage” area could be a corner of the apron.

This set should define Georges and Albin’s sense of taste. It is well-described in the script, with paintings and statuary of questionable quality in terms of, um, message. They are both sort of voluptuaries. They like bright and spangly and shiny, especially Albin. Albin’s make-up room should make most women jealous. The mirror, table and light should be sensational in its way, fit for a star.

Later the set is changed by their son, all the bright and flamboyant images removed in favor of a very dour statue, and dark, wooden, conservative furniture. The change should be dynamic and funny, and a bit unnerving. It is a kid’s idea of conservative, of contained, and it is way over the top, no less a product of some movie he saw than the two men’s ideas of Masculinity are. There must be a door that leads to the club, probably set to one side of the set, and able to be covered with a heavy drape as if a large window was hidden behind it.

Drapes would then rise to reveal the apartment occupying much if not all of the stage. Going back and forth could be as easy as isolating the “on stage” action to a side of the apron, and leaving the main drape up. Albin’s “dressing room” is simply a part of the apartment, always there.

Place Act I, Scene 4, “The Promenade” one of two ways. Drop a drop across the center of the stage, or just behind the main drape, to hide the apartment behind it and wheel or carry out a few tables and chairs for the cafe. (Include signage for the cafe as part of the drop, or drop signage as a three-dimensional object, forget the drop, and isolate the scene in light,m with a barrel or two to represent wharfs.) Or close the main drape and, in a pinch, play the scene on the apron. The background sound of the gentle Mediterranean, sea birds and what have you, will help.

Then, back to the club by raising the drop and striking the chairs and tables. That’s Act I, requiring one complex set (the apartment), and two relatively simple sets.

Act II starts in town, and the cafe. A drop center again will do the job. (All drops can be somewhat three-dimensional, or cut-aways that mask the stage behind them in this case.) Raise this drtop for the apartment, scene 2.

Scene 3 is at Chez Jacqueline. Another drop, as far back as possible to hide the apartment and leave as much stage as possible open. Cast dances in chairs and tables, candles burning, lights drop. Perhaps roll in a small “stage” to one side of the stage from the wings, with footlights that work. Dance off everything at the end, pull the little stage and the drop.

The apartment for Scene 4. Close the drape for the final scene and push the action to the front of the stage, the “La Cage” stage.

So, five sets. Not a job for a beginner, but not too taxing, though the details must be fun to look at. The mechanics of it should not be too rough assuming you have a fly system.

COSTUMES:

A huge job! The men who dress like women must be, in their own ways, convincing. They should be able to sing and dance in those dresses and heels. (I had to wear a dress and high heels for a show, long ago. Thought I was going to die from the pain of the shoes. Women are crazy to wear those!) Backstage, these are theater people in France, stylish, sophisticated, but always a tad over the top. These are probably costumes you can adapt from existing dresses and fluff, or rent. Some of this can be found in thrift stores and used clothing stores. You may need to build particularly Zaza’s costuming. You know you will need boas, gloves, that sort of additional flavor. And be aware that each character in the La Cage show is unique, and has their own theatrical persona and schtick. Workl with the Director on this aspect.

Georges and Albin need lovely well-fitted suits to wear at various points. The Dundin family are conservatively dressed. Street people are French, cafe owners are French. Jacqueline is a social player and is dressed appropriately. Jean-Michel and Anne are clean-cut good kids, dressed well.

A job for a very experienced costumer. Start early in the rehearsal process, and work closely with the Director and the Set Designer and Lighting Designer.

PROPS:

Whips. Anything used in the La Cage show. Tables, chairs to be brought on for the cafe, and for Jacqueline’s. Albin’s make-up. (The change is done before the audience’s eyes, pretty much, it must be real and planned out.) There will be many other props. Work with your Director. Not a job for a beginner.

LIGHTING:

A rich, complex assignment.  The onstage “La Cage” numbers must be bright, use saturated colors probably, they need to be theatrical, they need to pop.  The apartment must me cozy, homey, well-lit.  The outdoors scenes should feel outdoors – French – on the Mediterranean.   There’s going to be many cues.  A job for an expert Lighting Designer.

MAKE-UP:

A rather big job this time. Zaza and the La Cagelles must be compellingly made up (both men and women), a touch too much, and enough to hide the genders and mix them up. This will take some experimentation to get right. Each actor will need a specific make-up approach for their features if the men are to get away with it.

And wigs! Look at the personality expressed by each La Cagelle, and match hair to it.

The rest of the cast should be unobtrusively made-up. This is a job for an experienced Make-up Designer.

KEY PERSONNEL (The ones you MUST get right.):

Director, Choreographer, Musical Director, Set Designer, Costume Designer, Make-Up Designer, Lighting Designer, Georges, Albin.

MY THOUGHTS:
I think this is an entertaining show with a point of view. As such, it will work for many audiences, but not all. You know your market if you are a skilled producer. Only consider this show if it will work for your marketplace.

The design work should be exceptionally good. It should communicate a way of life, taste, a lifestyle, in sets, costuming, even make-up. Your design staff should be a good team, able to coordinate on a look and feel. Your Director should not be inept when it comes to design.

Work the book, get everything you can out of it, as much warmth and depth as possible. It will yield plenty. Then force the score to live up to the book in presentation. Make the songs come out of the story and characters. Demand they stay focused on the story point you’re at. Demand that emotion be generated from the performance of the numbers. Push and pull at Choreography and other elements to keep the piece moving forward, always developing story and characters. This can be a really fun show if you get it right.