In the 29 years since La Cage aux Folles opened on Broadway, societal attitudes about gays and marriage equality may have changed, yet the show remains as relevant as ever.
The 1983 Tony Award-winning musical, with a book by Harvey Fierstein and score by University of Miami alum Jerry Herman, was an adaptation of a 1973 French play about a gay couple in Saint-Tropez: Georges, the owner of a drag club, and Albin, his romantic partner and the star attraction as his alter-ego, “Zaza.” When they learn Georges’ son is marrying the daughter of an ultra-conservative politician, the antics begin as they try to conceal their flamboyant lifestyle.
Since taking home Broadway’s top prize, the show has racked up two wins for best revival in 2004 and 2010, but the story is perhaps best known thanks to the 1996 feature film set in South Beach and starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane.
The 2010 touring production makes a stop at Fort Lauderdale’s Broward Center this week as part of the Broadway Across America season and the center’s inaugural Pride Series.
While headliner George Hamilton (Georges) is not stranger to Fort Lauderdale—he filmed Where the Boys Are 50 years ago—Tony-nominated actor Christopher Sieber is making his first appearance in South Florida, portraying Albin/Zaza.
A gay man who recently married his longtime partner, the relevance of La Cage is not lost on Sieber.
“The funny thing is how many things have changed since (the show premiered),” he says. “It was such a big gamble back in the early ‘80s because it was just so gay, gay, gay.”
Even then, Director Arthur Laurents and composer Herman took women as dates to the opening: “Those two queens took girls!” he chuckles.
Sieber actually took the role at the encouragement of writer Fierstein, who was playing Zaza. The original actor cast for the role quit suddenly and Sieber had just a week to learn the role.
“I’ll never forget how he asked me in his gravelly voice,” Sieber says.
And, when the production was ready to hit the road, Fierstein was committed, so producers asked Sieber to switch roles. It was a challenge, he admits.
“Zaza is one of the most physically, emotionally and vocally demanding roles I’ve ever done,” he explains, adding, “and George only has three costumes. Albin has 15!”
Despite the challenges, Sieber relishes the role.
“I get the opportunity to make people laugh and fall out of their chairs and then a few minutes later, I have to make them cry,” says Sieber.
He especially enjoys the opportunity to share the show’s story about love and acceptance, especially in areas that might not be as progressive as the East or West Coasts. He recently ended a run in North Carolina, which passed a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, and was awed by the warm reception from audiences.
Sure, he says, a few people walked out, but “too bad for them. City to city, it’s not the people. Everybody that I meet are fantastic. It’s the politicians and the talking heads on TV who are stirring the crap.”
Sieber especially loves the end of the show as the husbands who were “dragged by their wives” end up standing and enthusiastically clapping as the cast takes their final bows.
“This show has a lot of heart and if you don’t feel it during the show,” he says, “you should go see a doctor.”