1973 The original French play La Cage aux Folles written by Jean Poiret premieres at the Theatre du Palais-Royal on February 1. The play starred the playwright Jean Poiret and Michel Serrault. The play ran for almost 1,800 performances. The play was seen by more than one million theatre goers.
1979 French film adaptation of play was directed by Edouard Molinaro. It starred Ugo Tognazzi and Michel Serrault. The film (subtitled “Birds of a Feather” on the US poster) was for many years the most successful foreign film to be released in the US. Unlike many other non-English –language films, the English dubbing was done generally by the original cast.
1980 The French film “La Cage aux Folles II” premiered, also directed by Edouard Molinaro.
1983 The musical La Cage aux Folles opened on August 21 at the Palace Theater on Broadway to great acclaim and popularity. The musical starred Gene Barry and George Hearn.
1985 The French film “La Cage aux Folles III” premiered, directed by Georges Lautner.
1985 The musical La Cage aux Folles opens in Australia and starred Keith Michel and Jon Ewing.
1986 The musical La Cage aux Folles opened in London’s West End starring George Hearn and Denis Quilley.
1996 The American film remake titled The Birdcage directed by Mike Nichols was released, relocated to South Beach, Miami, and starred Robin Williams and Nathan Lane.
2004 The musical La Cage aux Folles opened again on Broadway on December 9 at the Marriott Marquis Theatre starring Gary Beach and Daniel Davis.
2008 The musical La Cage aux Folles opened again in London but this time at the Menier Chocolate Factory to great acclaim, starring Douglas Hodge and Philip Quast.
2010 Another revival of La Cage aux Folles opened on April 18 on Broadway at the Longacre Theater, starring Kelsey Grammer and Douglas Hodge.
2010 A Dutch production opened in November and is still running.
2011 Tony Award-winning revival of La Cage aux Folles begins touring the United States.
By Diane Snyder
What does being Addams-y mean? That’s a question the creative team behind the splashy Addams Family Broadway musical had to decide as they wrote—and rewrote—their show, based on the characters created by cartoonist Charles Addams and brought to life in the 1960s TV series, and 1990s feature films, and finally on Broadway in 2009.
To production supervisor Jerry Zaks, Morticia, Gomez, Wednesday, Pugsley, Uncle Fester and their relations aren’t so different from the rest of us; their weirdness is just more pronounced.
“What we did was to maintain the truthfulness of who the Addams family is in terms of their values, but create a story that would make it possible for the audience to relate to Morticia and Gomez,” says Zaks, who’s won four Tony® Awards over the course of his directorial career, for shows such as Six Degrees of Separation and a 1992 revival of Guys and Dolls.
Still, coming up with a plot and reasons for such established characters to sing for two-plus hours proved to be a long and exacting process. Not as bad as having your fingernails removed (which, for an Addams, might feel like deep tissue massage), but it took them a couple of, ahem, stabs at the material.
As a result, Gomez and Morticia are singing a different tune—or three—in the touring edition of The Addams Family, which is spending the latter half of June at The Denver Center for the Performing Arts. The Broadway version underwent a considerable face-lift after the creative team, including Zaks, composer-lyricist Andrew Lippa, book writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, and choreographer Sergio Trujillo, convened to revise the show for the national tour. It meant not only adding to and subtracting from the score, but also adjusting the thrust of the narrative.
“It was a real challenge to take these known characters and throw them into a new story,” says Lippa, whose score was nominated for a Tony. “We were dealing with iconic characters that had, for lack of a better term, a playbook about them. People came in knowing these characters to some degree, and of course everybody knows them in a slightly different way.”
So the task at hand became finding a unified version of the show that the collaborators could get excited about.
“Everyone has their own definition of what the right tone for the show should be,” adds Zaks. “‘It’s gotta be more Addams-y.’ But the people who say that don’t know what they’re talking about. It sounds smart, but Charles Addams drew these wonderful cartoons which peppered so many editions of The New Yorker magazine and which always put a smile on people’s faces. They were funny, but the reason we smiled is because we identified with the Addams family; we identified with their dark side.”
He points to an Addams drawing of the clan enjoying the holidays together: “The family is on the roof at Christmas time, just about to pour what appears to be hot boiling oil on carolers. That just speaks for itself.”
Zaks joined the creative team of The Addams Family in December 2009, during the show’s pre-Broadway run in Chicago, as a creative consultant to directors Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch. McDermott and Crouch are the British duo who also designed the Addams’ odd, macabre onstage world. The musical opened on Broadway a few months later, with Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwrith heading the cast, but garnered only two Tony nominations although it ran for nearly two years. Speaking at the Drama League Awards that year, Lane quipped, “It’s no secret that The Addams Family was not well received in certain circles, like the Earth.”
The original plot revolved around Addams daughter Wednesday who, having fallen for a seemingly “normal” young man, invites him and his parents over for dinner to meet her family, then begs said family to try to act normal for one night (i.e., not be themselves). The story, the creators came to realize, gave Gomez and Morticia precious little to do besides look on, banter and, occasionally, sing and dance.
“There was no significant conflict between our two lead characters,” says Zaks. “Because of that, they were relegated to basically facilitating and observing the evening.”
This time around, Wednesday is engaged to her beloved, Lucas Beineke, and persuades her father not to tell her mother until she’s ready to announce it. Problems arise when Morticia suspects he’s hiding something from her.
“The cornerstone of the Morticia-Gomez relationship, we decided, should be that they always tell each other the truth,” explains Zaks. “They’ve always fully disclosed everything that was going on. And this is the night when Gomez keeps a secret from his wife, and he agrees to [do so] because he’s crazy about his daughter.”
For Lippa, whose musical theatre scores include The Wild Party and the upcoming Big Fish (adapted from the novel and film), the revised plot was a turning point. “That was the first big change we made for the tour,” he says. “It’s our reason for all of the changes that followed. There are three new songs in the show and all of them have to do with that conflict.”
Of those songs—“Trapped,” “Secrets” and “Not Today”—Lippa reports that the first one, a song that Gomez sings near the beginning of the show, was the hardest to write. It comes as Gomez realizes he’s torn between a promise he’s made to his wife and another he’s made to his daughter.
“It was grounded in the reality of what has made Gomez so frustrated and worried, but at the same time it had to be funny,” explains Lippa. “But he doesn’t realize it’s funny, he’s just stating the truth of it, and that took me a little while to grab on to. I wanted it to be funny, so I needed to come up with examples of people that were trapped in real life. There’s a lyric that goes, ‘Like a fly in my tea/Or the New York DMV/I’m trapped.’ Somehow people out in the country understand ‘New York DMV’ as being funny. They’ve never had an experience with it, but evidently they can imagine how bad it is.”
Three songs from the Broadway version were cut, including a Gomez and Morticia duet, “Where Did We Go Wrong”; Gomez’s love ode, “Morticia”; and “In the Arms,” a ballad sung by Lucas’ father after a rather affectionate encounter with a large mollusk. But Lippa didn’t mourn their demise.
“All the songs that got cut were songs that were tangential to the story as we were now writing it,” he says. “I was happy to lose them, actually. I’ve never had a show where there was a major song that I couldn’t bear to lose, and that’s usually because when you write that song that you can’t bear to lose, you wouldn’t need to, because it’s so clearly related to the story or to the characters in some way.”
The version now on tour is the one that will be licensed to school and regional theatres in the future, and both Zaks and Lippa says the final product was worth the effort it took to revise it. “It was a remarkable opportunity to go back and rethink the show,” explains Lippa. “Now in 20 years, when I go to my great nephew’s production of it at his high school, I can see a show that I really love.”
Republished from Applause magazine. Written by DianeSnyder, a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in Time Out New York, The Wall Street Journal and American Theatre.