The 1973 Play/1978 Movie/1984 Musical Vs. the 1996 Movie
Book Vs. Movie: La Cage Aux Folles & The Birdcage
“Musicals in March”
The “Month of Musicals” continues with the 1996 film The Birdcage, which took its influence from the play turned into Broadway musical La Cage Aux Folles. The original 1973 french play takes place in Saint-Tropez, where a gay couple meets an ultra-conservative family member. It was a huge hit in Paris, playing for over a year in 1973, and was made into a film in 1978.
Originally written by Jean Poiret, the original played in Paris for over 1800 performances with Poiret and Michell Serrault as the leads Georges and Albin, aka “Zaza.” The 1978 film had Italian actor Ugo Tognazzi as the lead playing Renato Baldi to Serrault’s Albin. It played to art houses across America. Poiret wanted to film the American version of the film, so he refused to sell the rights to the play but had no problem selling it as a musical.
Grease producer Allan Carr helped bring the project to Broadway as a musical, with Harvey Fierstein writing the book. Jerry Herman (Hello Dolly & Mame) was a revered lyricist and songwriter who provided the music. Director Arthur Laurents helped to make the 1983 production a massive success, with the song “I Am What I Am” becoming a gay anthem.
It’s important to remember what the culture was like in 1984, and having a gay married couple running a drag nightclub being the protagonists was a huge deal in the Queer community. The idea that 40 years later, we have to fight ugly stereotypes about gay people and drag culture is dispiriting, but we are allies who will sing the work’s praises. AND point out the hypocrisy happening in the news cycles today.
The original production won the 1984 Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Book, Best Original Score, and in 2004, Best Revival of a Musical. (And in 2010 as well!)
No less than comedy powerhouses Elaine May and Mike Nichols wrote and directed the 1996 filmed nonmusical adaptation, which stars Robin Williams and Nathan Lane as Arman and Albert Goldman. They run the most popular club in Miami and live with their housekeeper Agador (Hank Azaria). Their son Val (ugh–this character is the one bad spot in an otherwise joyous film) wants to marry his college girlfriend. Still, her parents are conservatives who fear his senate run will be badly affected by being associated with “that lifestyle.”
Which did we like better between the previous versions of the story and the 1996 film?
In this ep the Margos discuss:
- The backstory of La Cage Aux Folles
- The era of the 80s and how gay people were played in pop culture
- The work of Nichols & May
- The cast of the 1996 Movie: Robin Williams (Armand,) Nathan Lane (Albert,) Gene Hackman (Senator Kevin Keeley,) Dianne Weist (Louise Keeley,) Dan Futterman (Val Goldman,) Calista Flockhart (Barbara Keeley,) Hank Aazaria (Agador Spartacus,) and Christine Baranski as Katharine Archer.
- The cast of the original Broadway show: George Hearn (Albin,) Gene Barry (Georges,) and John Weiner as Jean Michel.
- Albert rehearses with Armand
- The Birdcage 1996 trailer
- George Hearn 1984 Tony Awards Awards “I Am What I Am”
- Albert rehearses with his “love goddess.”
- “Mrs. Coleman” shows up
- Music: The Goldman Girls We Are Family
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