La Cage aux Folles is a 1973 French play, a 1978 French-Italian film and a 1983 Broadway musical.
The plot revolves around a gay couple - Georges (Renato in the movie), the manager of a St. Tropez nightclub featuring drag entertainment, and Albin, his star attraction - and the adventures that ensue when Georges' son brings home his fiance's ultra-conservative parents to meet them.
The original play was written by Jean Poiret and starred Poiret and Michel Serrault. The film, directed by Edouard Molinaro, starred Ugo Tognazzi instead of Poiret, but retained Serrault. A shrewd farce, it won over audiences with hilarious sight gags, uproarious complications, and a tender and touching conclusion. It ran for well over a year at the Paris Theater, an art house in New York City, as well as theaters throughout the country, in both urban and rural areas. For years it remained the most successful foreign film to be released in the United States, and it eventually spawned two sequels, but neither was considered to be as clever or amusing.
In 1996, a highly successful American version entitled The Birdcage, directed by Mike Nichols, was released. It was set in South Beach in Miami, and starred Robin Williams and Nathan Lane as the couple, with Gene Hackman, Dianne Wiest, Dan Futterman, Calista Flockhart, Hank Azaria, and Christine Baranski in supporting roles.
In 1983, composer Jerry Herman (Hello Dolly!, Mame), playwright Harvey Fierstein (Torch Song Trilogy), and director Arthur Laurents (Gypsy) united to collaborate on a musical version for Broadway. A gay-themed project was risky in these early years of the AIDS epidemic, but the team - all gay men - felt it was the tonic needed by both those suffering from the illness and those who were homophobic due to its threat.
Although La Cage was Broadway's first "homosexual" musical, it was nevertheless a mainstream production. Laurents didn't allow his lead characters so much as a peck on the cheek for fear that he might offend his audience. It was an old-fashioned production in the best sense - elaborate costumes by veteran Theoni V. Aldredge, exquisite sets, glamorous chorus girls (albeit most of them actually boys), and a lushly romantic score.
The show - with George Hearn and Gene Barry in the lead roles - opened at the Palace Theatre on August 21, 1983 to wildly ecstatic reviews. The show was destined to become the biggest new American musical of the decade. The original run included 1,761 performances and spawned numerous touring companies. Albin's Act One finale number, the rousing I Am What I Am, was recorded by Gloria Gaynor and proved to be one of her biggest hits. It also became the rallying cry of the Gay Pride movement.
Competition for the 1984 Tony Awards in the musical categories was primarily between La Cage and Stephen Sondheim's Sunday in the Park with George. Traditional won out over avant-garde, as evidenced by the number of awards accorded La Cage (see complete list below). In his acceptance speech, Herman noted there was still a place on Broadway for "the melodic musical."
A hugely successful Broadway revival, starring Gary Beach (The Producers) and Daniel Davis (television's The Nanny), played from late 2004 until mid 2005 to packed houses in the Mariott Marquis Theater. Late in the run, Daniel Davis was replaced by Robert Goulet. It is rumored that the switch was made due to arguments between Daniel Davis and other members of the cast and crew. In 2005, this production won two Tony awards: best musical revival and best choreography (Jerry Mitchell). Gary Beach was nominated in the best actor category and William Ivey Long was nominated for best costume design.