How to fix LA CAGE AUX FOLLES (musical)

How to fix LA CAGE AUX FOLLES (musical)

A bit of a presumptuous heading, I suppose; I honestly doubt anyone connected with La Cage thinks it needs fixing – it remains a tremendously popular show some 40 years after its debut, and picks up a Tony for Best Production every time it plays Broadway (one for Best Musical and two for Best Musical Revival). I’m actually a fan, so it’s hard to complain too much; whatever the flaws, it’s always a fun night out.

But the flaws are there. Three are particularly grating, especially since they are so unnecessary. The worst, carried over from the otherwise terrific French movie, is the treatment of the gay couple’s son. The attitude of Albin, the more flamboyant father, would have suggested that he and the son were very close, but that is not evident in the least in the son’s behavior, which as presented here is callous and calculating. Whatever his issues with his fiancée, this doesn’t feel right. His desire for Albin to step aside for an evening for the woman he loves is panicky and spineless, but does it have to be so malicious? In all versions of this show, the son is less a credible character than a plot device. The confusion of a young boy inexperienced and hopelessly in love would be much more attractive and explain why Albin still wants to help out. It’s all the more confusing in the show since his joyous song about his bride-to-be makes him seem initially very appealing, before the script totally undermines that in the same scene. The musical, in its effort to score political points, manages to make the French film’s biggest fault even worse.

Second, the fiancée and her parents are not introduced until the second act. Very bad move. These are key characters in the drama, especially the father, and we need to get to know them early on to set up the stakes. I imagine the mechanics were difficult since it implies a new set and new scene, but my modest proposal is below.

The last is the show’s irritating preachiness. This is partly a function of the changing times, a trend that the musical itself happily helped bring about, but I really think it’s time for a rewrite. One thing I really enjoyed in the original film was that it had no interest in politics or gay rights or anything at all other than sheer fun. There’s a fundamental respect for all characters: the Minister of Morality is not presented so much as evil as clueless, and it is his own actions that betray him as a buffoon. In contrast, Albin may be an hysterical queen, but his big moment proves him the bravest and most dignified of all. The story itself is neutral, and we reach our own conclusions as it progresses, which is as it should be. The musical telescopes this from the start; the characters may as well be wearing white and black hats. When the musical villain is standing before the couple yelling “Homosexual!”, it comes off as ridiculous – who would do that in another person’s home, where he’s surrounded by an army of homosexuals and kitchen knives and all the rest? A slow burn as in the film would have been much funnier and, more importantly, more believable. Maybe the French are just better at this than Americans; they’re more casual about sex in general, and I suppose gay sex is more of the same for them – in any case, the “lesson” about prejudice in the film is more lightly worn and ultimately more convincing.

So I’ve come to the rescue! I’m not seriously trying to compete on Harvey Fierstein’s level; consider this a template rather than a serious script. This is the scene where the son tells his father about his marriage and his in-laws. In my version, his parents have already met the fiancée for reasons that will be evident. Other changes will be clear along the way. So here goes:

LA CAGE: Georges/Albin apartment in St Tropez.

 Jean-Michel arrives after some time away, greets and hugs his biological father Georges. His other father Albin is not there. After a brief exchange:

Georges

So what do we have to thank for this rare visit to your old dads?

Jean-Michel

I’ve got… a small problem. You mind if we talk?

Georges

Of course, that’s what fathers are for. So talk.

Jean-Michel

First of all, Anne and I are engaged.

Georges

Engaged? That’s splendid news! Congratulations! She’ll be a wonderful bride, and we’re delighted for you. So that’s a problem?

Jean-Michel

No, no, it’s not her, she’s terrific and beautiful and everything I’ve ever wanted.

Georges

And so?

Jean-Michel

It’s her family.

 Georges

Ah, the in-laws. The world’s oldest conundrum, the wellspring of a thousand farces. So they disapprove of you.

Jean-Michel

I wouldn’t say that. It’s just, well…

Georges

Well?

Jean-Michel

Well, it’s like this. I was there in Anne’s apartment…

Anne appears.

Anne

They’re on their way up.

Jean-Michel

(nervously) How do I look?

Anne

Handsome and sexy and gorgeous as ever. Don’t worry.

Jean-Michel

I guess I am a bit nervous.

Anne

You’ll be fine. (hesitant) Actually, there is one thing I’ve been meaning to tell you…

Jean-Michel

Oh?

Anne

You won’t get angry, will you?

Jean-Michel

Oh-oh, this doesn’t sound good.

Anne

It’s about my parents.

Jean-Michel

What about them?

Anne

They’re very… special.

Jean-Michel

They’re your parents. That makes them special already.

Anne

No, I mean, they’re special in a different way. They’re, well, they’re…

(Doorbell rings. Anne freezes. Doorbell rings again.)

Jean-Michel

Anne, aren’t you going to let them in?

Anne

I, um, I…

(door opens)

Marie

Yoo-hoo, we’re letting ourselves in. Anybody home? (enters with husband) Ah, here you are, dear.

Edouard

What’s going on in here? We thought you were locking us out.

Anne

No, no, Mother, Father, please come in. Let me introduce you to my fiancée.

Jean-Michel

(laughs nervously) That’s me.

Anne

This is Jean-Michel, my intended. Jean-Michel, these are my parents. Marie and Edouard Dindon.

Jean-Michel

Nice to – (suddenly recognizes the father, recoils)

Georges and Jean-Michel simultaneously gasp loudly.

Georges

Edouard Dindon? The head of the Tradition, Family and Morality Party? The devil incarnate?

Jean-Michel

Yes, one and the same.

Georges

He gives morality a bad name. And those family values — you know what he and his party think about our lifestyle. That’s Anne’s father? That’s unforgivable.

Jean-Michel

I’m hardly in a position to be blaming someone for having unusual parents.

Georges

But why didn’t she tell you?

Jean-Michel

I asked her the same thing… (to Anne, through clenched teeth) Anne, dear, you never mentioned that your father was this Dindon.

Anne

Well, I was thinking of getting around to it…

Edouard

Hahaha, now, now, I’m sure she didn’t mean anything. Surely it’s not easy being the daughter of a famous personality, and we’ve done our best to keep her out of the spotlight. But we are her parents, after all, nothing we can do about that.

Jean-Michel

(forced laughter) No, nothing we can do.

Marie

You’re just as fine a man as we expected; we’re so delighted to meet you. She tells us you’re something of an artiste.

Jean-Michel

Oh, she told you that? (to Anne) Anything else I should know?

Edouard

I’m afraid she’s told us a lot about you. I understand your father was…

Anne

(quickly) Father, not right now –

Edouard

Nonsense. (to Jean-Michel) I understand your father was the cultural attaché…

Georges + Jean-Michel

Cultural attaché!

Edouard

…from the Holy See.

Georges

This is going too far! I haven’t stepped inside a church since I borrowed the nun outfits for the sailor number. I hope you cleared things up immediately.

Jean-Michel

I tried. (to Anne) Umm, darling, can I speak to you for a second? (to Dindons) Pardon us. (taking Anne aside) Anne, what are you telling them? You met my fathers. How can you say those things?

Anne

I had to say something. I didn’t want to cause a fuss, and I wanted to make this as smooth as possible. Once we’re married, it won’t matter any more. I love your family, and I love you, and I don’t want to lose you ever. Please, please just tell this one little white lie. It will make things so much easier. And did I tell you I love you?

Jean-Michel

(to Georges) See? How can I get mad at that? She loves me. And she’s crazy about you. She’s doing the best she can in difficult circumstances. So what am I supposed to say?

Georges

Well, what did you say?

Jean-Michel

That’s where it got complicated.

Georges

It got more complicated?

Jean-Michel

(to Dindons) Yes, well, my parents are very quiet people; they don’t like to make a fuss.

Marie

They sound like wonderful people. I understand they’re living in St Tropez.

Jean-Michel

Yes, living a nice quiet peaceful restrained life.

Marie

Edouard, we must meet them at once. We can announce our daughter’s engagement officially. A wedding is always popular, a good boost for the party.

Edouard

You may be on to something there. That’s not a bad idea at all.

Jean-Michel

Actually, I’m not sure it’s a good idea either…

Marie

Now, now, I’m sure they’re dying to meet us as well. You’ll understand when you’re a parent. After all, we’ll be in-laws, joined at the hip. (laughs)

Jean-Michel

(laughs weakly) Haha, yes, but I think they’ll be busy then.

Marie

I haven’t mentioned a date.

Jean-Michel

Well, they’re always busy, so whatever the date is, they’re going to be busy.

Marie

You men. You let me handle this. Your parents are going to be thrilled, I promise you.

Jean-Michel

Anne, do something…

Anne

Mother, wouldn’t you rather wait until after we’re married?

Marie

Anne, darling, don’t interrupt your mother. (to Edouard) Dear, you can find a reason to go to St Tropez, can’t you?

Edouard

I suppose I could. I’m supposed to be looking into those tasteless nightclubs that have been springing up along the strip.

Georges

Tasteless! He’s got a lot of gall.

Marie

Wonderful. We’ll take care of everything. We’ll be in touch on the logistics. We just can’t wait to meet them.

(The parents smile as they and Anne fade away)

Georges

So they’re coming here to meet us. The former cultural attaché from the Vatican… and his wife. How exactly does that work?

Jean-Michel

I don’t know, but yes, they’re coming. And that’s where the problem comes in.

Georges

There’s more??

Jean-Michel

Dad, you know I love both of you very much.

Georges

Oh-oh, this is going to be a big one.

Jean-Michel

Come on, I’m serious. You’re the only fathers I’ve ever had. I’d do anything for you.

Georges

And that’s mutual. You know we love you too.

Jean-Michel

So I have one tiny favor.

Georges

That’s what usually follows “I love you” – I have a favor. So what is it?

Jean-Michel

It’s about Albin.

Georges

What about Albin?

Jean-Michel

You know he’s a bit… exuberant.

Georges

That’s one way to put it, yes. And?

Jean-Michel

And I love him dearly. I couldn’t have had a better father.

Georges

Yes, yes, you love him, I get the idea. And?

Jean-Michel

Well… (with difficulty) When Anne’s parents come to town to meet my parents, they probably think they’ll be meeting some boring old couple.

Georges

Undoubtedly. And?

Jean-Michel

A conventional boring old couple.

Georges

Yes?

Jean-Michel

A conventional boring old… straight couple.

Georges

Jean-Michel, can you please get to the point?

Jean-Michel

The point is… the point is, I want to give them a conventional straight couple. I want them to come and go and get out of our lives. I want… I don’t want Albin to be here.

Georges

You what?? What are you saying?

Jean-Michel

He’s just so… high-spirited and excitable. I don’t think it would be a good match. And I’m sure he wouldn’t want to be eating with Edouard Dindon either.

Georges

In other words, you’re humiliated by him.

Jean-Michel

No, it’s not that…

Georges

Then what it is it? For a man who’s been by your side since the day you were born, walked you to school, cared for you when you were sick. He’s completely devoted to you. And now you just throw him aside because he’s too, how did you put it, exuberant for your fiancée’s parents? He has every right to sit at that table as your father. I absolutely refuse to allow this.

Jean-Michel

Dad, I know, I know, you’re absolutely right, it’s not easy for me to ask this. But Dindon is powerful and ruthless; he could make it impossible for Anne to be with me regardless of what she wants. And I’d do anything to keep that from happening.

Georges

Even dump your own father? And you talk about ruthless. Suddenly you find him too embarrassing to trot out in front of some preening moralists. How can you live with yourself? How do you think he’ll feel?

Jean-Michel

You’re being unfair. I just want to put on a show for these people for one dinner, one time, one night. Then this nightmare will be over. We’ll exchange a few pleasantries, and then we can say goodbye forever.I just need a father and a temporary mother.

Georges

A mother! And who is this mother?

Jean-Michel

We can ask one of the women in the cast; acting is their profession. They just have to smile and say as little as possible.

Georges

This is absolutely absurd.

Jean-Michel

Dad, come on, I love Albin, you can’t possibly doubt that. I write him every week, I’ve never forgotten a birthday, I’ve been to every opening night since you thought I was old enough.

Georges

You were three.

Jean-Michel

And I remember it all: the pink sequined dress, the purple fur, the big staircase…

Georges

You remember that?

Jean-Michel

Everything. You and Albin have given me fantastic memories, and I love you for it. And out of a whole lifetime, I’m asking, for the first and only time, for just two hours, tops. Can’t you ask him?

Georges

Me?!

Jean-Michel

You’re the only one who can reason with him. Please, Dad. I need you. He just needs to be elsewhere during their visit, that’s all I ask. This is for Anne, the woman I love. This dinner could affect my entire life. Please. I’m begging you.

Georges

Oh… all right then, I’ll do my best. I can’t make any promises.

Jean-Michel

Thanks, Dad. I love you.

Georges

Don’t say that. It makes me think another favor is coming.

Jean-Michel

No, this one’s for real. Thanks for everything.

——————————————————————

Ta-da! Problem solved. We lose a song or two (not sure about “Look Over There”), but the son turns from a puppet to a real boy, we meet the girl and “villains” for ourselves rather than through hearsay, and the boy’s motivation is not lack of love but lack of perspective and good sense. He and the bad guys will get their comeuppance in the end, and we get our happy ending. Harvey, feel free to use this!

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