With music and lyrics by Jerry Herman and a book by Harvey Fierstein, La Cage aux Follesnote is a hilarious, touching, thought-provoking, classic story about family and tolerance loved by millions the world over. Originally a French stage play written by Jean Poiret that debuted in 1973, a Franco-Italian movie adaptation was released in 1978 which garnered two sequels and was eventually Americanized as the 1996 hit comedy film, The Birdcage. This entry concerns both the American musical adaptation, which had its first production on Broadway in 1983 as well as the non-musical Franco-Italian movies.
Set in Saint-Tropez, France, the story centers around a gay couple, Georges and Albin. Georges is the proprietor and master of ceremonies of the eponymous, popular dragclub, La Cage aux Folles (literally translated as "The Cage of Mad Women", but 'Folles' is also French LGBT slang equivalent to 'queens') and Albin is the club's headlining star, performing as his celebrated drag alter ego, "Zaza". Their son, Jean-Michel, the result of Georges' one-time heterosexual liaison, then returns from a holiday to inform them about his engagement to his girlfriend, Anne Dindon. Unfortunately, Anne's father happens to be Edouard Dindon, the notoriously homophobic, hyper-conservative Deputy General of the Tradition, Family & Morality Party...who is on his way to meet the potential in-laws. To make things even better, Jean-Michel lied about his fathers telling them Georges is a retired military veteran and married to a woman in the hopes of winning them over.
The show was a massive success on Broadway winning 6 Tony Awards including Best Musical. It 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 whole point of the show, the couple never kisses or does anything more). Nevertheless, Georges and Albin are shown to be a generous, loving pair capable of caring for a child and for one another. Having countless revivals over the years, it continues to be an icon in musical theatre (and recently in the West End) with one of its songs, "I Am What I Am", becoming a rallying cry of the Gay Pride movement.
The play and musical provides examples of the following tropes:
- Attractive Bent-Gender:
- The idea behind Les Cagelles, the club's stunning "showgirls" most, if not all, of which whom are actually men. In the original Broadway staging in The '80s, the director managed to sneak in two women into the drag queen lineup and the audience was faced with the extra challenge of figuring out which ones they were.
- Albin as "Zaza". Jacob could also be this as well when in drag.
- Alternate Show Interpretation: The acclaimed 2008 U.K. revival, which transferred to Broadway in 2010, is deliberately smaller-scale than the original Costume Porn and Scenery Porn-heavy 1983 Broadway staging that had become the precedent. This was something writers Harvey Fierstein and Jerry Herman had wanted for years; as Fierstein explains in the liner notes of the 2010 cast recording, "I wrote about a small drag club but what we've always given the audience was a full-blown Folies Bergere... I've witnessed a lot of productions focus more on the farce and less on the heart."
- Amazingly Embarrassing Parents:
- Played with. This is always usually averted for Jean-Michel who isn't really ashamed of his fathers or La Cage and couldn't love the life he had more. It's only with Anne that he attempts to cover up the truth considering her homophobic father would never want his daughter to marry the son of gay parents and that her inheritance of a dowry is contingent upon her father's approval. However, this was downplayed with Albin as Jean-Michel was growing up. As much as he loves his stepfather, Jean-Michel found Albin's hyper-effeminacy a tad humiliating. Whenever he wanted a shirt, Albin would buy him a blouse and Albin would insist they stroll hand-in-hand when in public as others would gawk and stare at them. That said, Jean-Michel would defend him and even took beatings from other children in doing so.
- Played somewhat straight with Anne who, despite loving them, couldn't be any less like her parents ideologically speaking and loathes how her father lectures everyone on morality and family values. She ironically comments to Jean-Michel that he's "lucky to have normal parents."
- Caged Bird Metaphor: Inverted: The eponymous La Cage aux Folles is a gay nightclub where individuals are free to celebrate their true selves and passions.
- Camp Gay: Any homosexual character apart from Georges or stage manager Francis even though Georges has subtle nuances of this. Albin, however, is camp to the extent that when it came the time to be "Uncle Al", he fails hard simply because he just cannot convincingly play a straight man despite being such a talented performer.
- Chekhov's Gag: Les Cagelles, including Albin, often pull their own wigs off at the end of their numbers when performing in the cabaret. Unfortunately for Albin, old habits die hard, as when he's disguised as Jean-Michel's mother and is asked to sing in front of a crowded restaurant, he still ends up pulling his wig off at the end of the song, revealing his identity as a drag queen to Jean-Michel's conservative future in-laws.
- Dark Reprise: "I Am What I Am" of "We Are What We Are"; one of the few numbers that manages to combine this with Triumphant Reprise. It's huge, assertive, and powerful, but it's not good news.
- Dating What Daddy Hates: Double subverted. Anne had no idea about the truth of her fiance's fathers, but upon learning who they are, she states that she loves them and wishes to be part of their family.
- Disguised in Drag: When Sybil once again disappoints and decides not to show up for dinner, Albin is compelled to save the day by posing as Jean-Michel's mother somehow managing to fool the prospective in-laws.Georges: "Sorry Sybil" should be her name.
- Invoked to spirit the Dindons out past the reporters Jacqueline brought.
- Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Albin sings this in "I Am What I Am".
- Drag Queen: Albin is a local celebrity as "Zaza". Also Les Cagelles along with "Chantal", "Hannah from Hamburg" and "Phaedra, the Enigma" and seemingly most of the club's employees which includes Drag Kings as well.
- Jacob desperately aspires to be one.
- The Dreaded: Edouard Dindon, Deputy General of the TFM, to our main characters and the LGBTQ+ community in general.
- French Maid: Jacob was hired as a butler, but insists on being referred to as the "maid" and may even don a French Maid Outfit much to Georges' annoyance.
- Gay Aesop: Whether gay or straight, a family is a family. No one should ever have to pretend to be anything other than who or what they are for others to accept them. Live and love as hard as you know how... because the best of times is now.
- The Ghost: Sybil, Jean-Michel's biological mother.
- Good Parents: Albin and Georges were obviously loving, competent parents, and Jean-Michel loves them both dearly. A lot of the drama stems from Albin's hurt over being asked to pose as an uncle, instead of the father that he's been all these years.
- Happily Married: Georges and Albin with an appropriate amount of drama.
- Hilarity Ensues
- I Am What I Am: The Trope Namer. Albin sings about how he, at least, is not ashamed of who he is.
- Last Chorus Slow-Down: "With Anne on My Arm" and "The Best of Times".
- Masculine–Feminine Gay Couple: Georges, the relatively manly Straight Gay, and Albin, the squeamish, highly effeminate Drag Queen.
- Obnoxious In-Laws: The snooty, right-wing Dindons, specifically Edouard and Marie, who deride Georges and Albin's lifestyle. Anne, however, is nothing like her parents and comes to love her fathers-in-law.
- Parental Neglect: Despite being the biological mother, Sybil has hardly ever wanted anything to do with Jean-Michel throughout his life apart from the occasional birthday card (usually sent on her birthday). However, during the reprise of "Look Over There", Jean-Michel proudly proclaims Albin has been his true mother so to speak.
- Plucky Comic Relief: Jacob.
- Queer People Are Funny
- Small Start, Big Finish:
- "I Am What I Am", the first act closer. It begins with a normal tone but the notes get larger as Albin asserts himself throughout the song.
- "The Best of Times" starts off with Albin (as Zaza, and pretending to be Jean-Michel's mother) performing alone to a restaurant full of people, with everyone eventually joining in. Albin even gets so caught up in the moment that he pulls his wig off in celebration at the end of the song...
- Straight Gay: Again, Georges and maybe Francis. Although Georges might display minor camp subtleties.
- Strawman Political: Edouard Dindon.
- Title Drop: Reoccurring all throughout the show even as the title for one of the numbers no less.
- Token Minority: Zany housekeeper Jacob was usually portrayed as a black man (or an ethnic minority) in a mostly white cast.
- Triumphant Reprise: The Finale brings back "With You on My Arm", "La Cage aux Folles", "Song on the Sand" and, especially "The Best of Times" all in one big, epic, grandiose number.
- "Look Over There" has a small, but very potent one after Jean-Michel proudly states to the Dindons that Albin, though a man, is indeed his real "mother".
- Where Everybody Knows Your Flame: The eponymous drag club.
- Wholesome Crossdresser: As you might expect with a drag club. With the exception of Georges and Francis, pretty much anyone at La Cage is this. Even Albin dons a suit when strolling outside with Georges. Although, les Cagelles are rarely seen out of drag and Jacob seemingly won't wear something if it isn't made for a woman with the exception of the climactic dinner scene. However, Jacob's butler getup is so over-the-top and flamboyant that it barely counts.
The Franco-Italian film trilogy (1978-1985).
- Adaptation Name Change: In the films, Georges is renamed Renato Baldi, Jean-Michel is now Laurent (lor-rawn), Sybil is Simone Deblon and Edouard & Marie Dindon become Simon (see-moan) and Louise Charrier (shar-ee-ay).
- Ascended Extra: In the first movie, Sybil (renamed Simone Deblon) and is given a bigger and much more affectionate role as opposed to being The Ghost in the play and musical.
- Beware the Nice Ones: When Senator Charrier begins thrashing his daughter upon learning the truth about Laurent’s parents, Albin momentarily loses his falsetto and effeminate mannerisms, and yells at the senator to back off with a booming, masculine voice.
- Hypocrite: In the first movie, Simon's boss, the president of a right-wing party that boasts "morality" and "tradition", dies in the arms of an underage prostitute.
- Sleep Mask: Albin wears one in the first sequel.
- Unexpected Inheritance: In the third movie, Albin will receive a massive fortune from a dead aunt,…provided he marries a woman and sires a child.
And live and love as hard as you know how
And make this moment last
Because the best of times is now...is now...is now."