By Clayton Phillips, Director, ABT La Cage aux Folles
First, there was a French comedy written in 1973 by Jean Poiret. The translation of the title is “The Cage of Madwomen” (or Fools). In 1978 there was a Franco-Italian film of the same title, which is the basis for the musical La Cage aux Folles, which was originally presented on Broadway in 1983. There was also an American film entitled The Birdcage.
At the heart of this story is an older couple who have been together for many years. They care for one another in ways that only a long-lasting and unconditional love allows. They also havea child, whom they love. There may be ups and downs, but there is love. Love that transcends differences of opinions and relies on compromises and understanding. The unique part of this story is that the couple is two men: Georges and Albin. Two men who have been together for a long time in a loving relationship, raising a child who is the biological child of Georges.
This was a time before Marriage Equality was even considered as an option. One of these men owns the club “La Cage aux Folles,” a nightclub with female impersonators as entertainment. The other half of that couple is the star of that club: the incomparable ZAZA! The comedy ensues when their son decides he is marrying a young lady whose family will never accept his family, and they are brought together in a hysterical clash of values and ideologies allowing us to experience fabulous female impersonators and teaching us, along the way, that we can all find a way to get along.
When I first saw the film of La Cage aux Folles in 1978, I loved the premise and how it just presented this older (sometimes bickering) couple with such honesty and love. A same-sex couple, in those days, was usually either comic relief or ridiculed, and this film challenged our perspectives. We see a healthy long-term relationship that, while still mimicking the tradition of a male/female relationship, is complex and loving.
One of the major themes of the musical is “illusion.” The illusion of the images we present. What you see is not always what is the truth. What we see is an illusion, a vision of what we want to be seen. Our illusions, in life, are not as clear cut as a male presenting himself as a female, they run deeper. Each and every one of us present illusions every day. Sometimes they are healthy and sometimes they are not. Love can see past illusion to truth, and true love accepts both the illusion and the truth. Albin sings “I am what I am, and what I am is an illusion,” and we shall discover what is behind that illusion. Love.
Love is Love is Love.