"We are what we are..."
With a book by Harvey Fierstein and lyrics and music by Jerry Herman, La Cage aux Folles
is a hilarious, touching, thought-provoking story about family, homosexuality and tolerance. Loved by so many, loathed by Christian Conservatives. Originally a French play written by Jean Poiret in 1973, a movie version was released in 1978, and the story was eventually Americanized as the 1996 comedy film The Birdcage
. This entry concerns both the 1978 French/Italian film and the American musical adaptation, which had its first production on Broadway in 1983.
The story centers around a gay couple, Georges and Albin. Georges is the manager of the popular, eponymous nightclub, "La Cage aux Folles", featuring drag acts — including Albin as Zaza, the headlining star. Georges has a son, Jean-Michel, who was conceived during a past liaison with a woman named Sybil; Jean-Michel has become engaged to a woman named Anne Dindon. But Anne's father is the head of the "Tradition, Family and Morality Party," which wants to close the local drag establishments, so when Anne's parents wish to meet Jean-Michel's parents, Georges tries to persuade Albin to tone it down, and at first Albin plays along, but it turns out he just can't
play it straight. So Sybil is to take the place of Albin for a dinner with Anne's family, but when she's late, Albin decides to dress in drag for the dinner...
The show is best known for its ground-breaking presentation of a happy established gay couple, and for its proud message of tolerance (though ironically, for fear of offending any in the audience who disagree with the point of the movie, the couple never kisses or does anything more). Georges and Albin are shown to be a generous, loving couple capable of caring for a child and for one another. It has been a success on Broadway (and recently in the West End) and the song "I Am What I Am" has become a rallying cry of the Gay Pride movement.
Tropes featured include:
- An Aesop: Gay or straight, family is family. No one should ever have to pretend to be anything other than what they are for others to accept them. Live and love as hard as you know how...because the best of times is now.
- Attractive Bent-Gender: The idea behind Les Cagelles.
- Jacob could be this as well.
- Bi the Way/If It's You, It's Okay: Georges and Sybil's one-time get-together which led to Jean-Michel.
- Breakaway Pop Hit: The song "I Am What I Am" was a disco hit that is still popular to this day.
- Camp Gay/Transsexual
- Disguised in Drag
- Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Albin sings this in "I Am What I Am".
- French Maid/French Maid Outfit: Jacob, an amusing male example.
- Has Two Daddies: Jean-Michel (renamed as Laurent in the film) was raised by Georges and Albin.
- Hilarity Ensues
- Hypocrite: Simon's boss, the party president, dies in the arms of an underage prostitute.
- I Am What I Am: The Trope Namer.
- Last Chorus Slow Down: "With Anne on My Arm" and "The Best of Times".
- Sassy Black "Woman": Jacob, the "maid", though a man, is essentially this.
- Screen-to-Stage Adaptation
- Sleep Mask: Albin wears one in the sequel movie.
- Small Start Big Finish: "I Am What I Am".
- Strawman Political: Edouard Dindon in the musical/Simon Charrier in the movie.
- Trans Equals Gay
- Token Minority: Zany housekeeper Jacob is generally portrayed as a black man (or an ethnic minority) in a traditionally all-white cast which can lead to Unfortunate Implications and is why many productions try to avert this.
- Regardless of whatever ethnicity any of the characters were originally, the roles can be open to anyone depending on the production.
- Where Everybody Knows Your Flame: The titular drag club.
- Wholesome Crossdresser: With the exception of Georges and stage manager Francis, pretty much anyone at La Cage is this, especially Albin and Jacob.