The country appears to be entering a new era of conservatism, at least judging by the stand in 11 states against gay marriage in the recent election.
But Broadway iconoclasts Georges and Albin are swimming against the tide.
In the original 1978 French film “La Cage aux Folles,” the men never kissed onscreen. Same is true of the 1983 legit tuner version by Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein. Likewise, Mike Nichols nixed any physical display of affection between “The Birdcage” stars Robin Williams and Nathan Lane in his 1996 film.
Now, just in time for George W. Bush to amend the U.S. Constitution, Georges (Daniel Davis) and Albin (Gary Beach) actually do it! Walking off into the sunset at show’s end, they put their lips together and kiss. In front of 1,604 people. Every night and at matinees, too, of the new Broadway revival opening Dec. 5.
“I thought it was correct for them not to kiss 22 years ago,” says Herman. “I think it is perfectly right for them to kiss now. We’ve had years of ‘Will and Grace.’ ”
Despite the gay couple’s nationality, it is doubtful that Georges and Albin will do any French kissing. “It is sweet and natural,” Herman assures. “It is not like Liza Minnelli’s wedding kiss.”
Twenty-two years ago, the show’s director, Arthur Laurents, opted to go the chaste route. “I had to keep sex out of it,” he says of the original “La Cage” staging. “Instead, I tried to make it about a boy who has to accept a man as his mother. That was not so daring, but in 1983 it was daring.” Especially for a big-budget Broadway musical.
Laurents recalls the notes from the Boston tryout: “The one from Harvey was, ‘The men should kiss at the end.’ ” But from other parties: “The two men shouldn’t even touch,’ ” he says.
Laurents says bringing “La Cage” to Broadway then was a “wonderful experience, great fun.”
Fierstein remembers it somewhat differently.
“I did not want to see that (original) production ever again,” he says. “We were offered to bring that back. I held out for a new production. In this production, (Georges and Albin) are very physical.”
In addition to getting his kiss, Fierstein put back a couple of lines that “they wouldn’t let me have the first time. I did freshen it up. It ain’t Shakespeare, so you can fuck with it.
“The show is 20 years old. But what is sad: I didn’t have to touch any of the political stuff. The politician is head of the traditional family-morality party. The essence of that hasn’t changed, unfortunately.”
When “La Cage” preemed, there were many critics who felt it didn’t push the gay envelope enough. And yet, 22 years later, Georges and Albin continue to stand alone as the only gay lovers to headline a big Broadway musical hit. (An Off Broadway transfer, William Finn’s intimate “Falsettos,” ran fewer than 500 perfs.)
Then again, “All musicals are about gay people,” says one agent. Certainly enough gay people write, direct and choreograph them.
“There was hardly a heterosexual in sight on ‘Hairspray,’ ” Fierstein says. “Why do gay writers write about heterosexuals? One (reason) is social, the other is financial.”
The first “La Cage” ran 1,761 performances and closed in 1987. Rock Hudson had died two years earlier, from AIDS, and many observers say the resulting increased awareness of the epidemic dented the show’s box office.
Today, “La Cage,” the musical that celebrates a gay marriage, returns to Broadway exactly one month after 11 states passed initiatives banning gay marriage.
But Herman isn’t worried. He says the theater is more “charged” because the auds are more aware. “An elderly woman sitting next to me cheered when they kissed,” he reports.
Less optimistic, Laurents says, “I don’t think there’s been much progress for any minorities. But if the show is good, they’ll go.”