The current Broadway production of La Cage aux Folles, the 1983 Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein musical, is up for 11 Tony Awards tonight. In the revival, Kelsey Grammer plays Georges, the owner of a French Riviera drag club, and Douglas Hodge is Albin, his lover and the club’s star. But this video from the 1984 awards features George Hearn, who originated the role, singing Albin’s big number, “I Am What I Am,” after the Cagelles perform “We Are What We Are.”
I did some digging today, without success, to find authoritative confirmation of the various claims out there (CBS’s squeamishness, a clause in Hearn’s contract) about why Hearn was not in drag while performing on the telecast. I was also curious to see gay reactions to the musical’s premiere, but I’m away from the microfilm room, and little of the gay press from the period has been digitized. (Gay Community News ran an unattributed review of the Boston preview that called the show “a pleasant surprise.”)
So I’ll leave you, instead, with an amazing anecdote from Michael Bronski’s contemporaneous (1984) book Culture Clash: The Making of Gay Sensibility:
After the gala opening of La Cage Aux Folles, a disgruntled queen muttered that “It’s nothing more than Mame in drag.” The obvious answer, proffered by a close-standing wag, was: “But, my dear, Mame was Mame in drag.”
Happy Tony watching!