La Cage aux Folles, which was not a part of Trinity Preparatory school's regular theatre schedule, was offered as a summer intensive open to all local high school students, not only those enrolled at Trinity Preparatory School. The program was designed to provide students with a credit for a fine arts requirement by bringing in local theatre professionals in order to allow students the experience of a professional rehearsal and production process.
Janine Papin, chairwoman of Trinity Preparatory School's fine-arts program and director of La Cage aux Folles, awaited the start of the school year to promote the production scheduled to take place the weekend of Aug. 31.
Papin was sensitive to the issues central to La Cage and provided a PG-13 rating on promotional materials, so that parents and students were aware of the musical's content. Having previously produced A Chorus Line at Trinity Prep, a musical with many progressive central themes, Papin hoped audiences and the school were willing to go on the latest journey with her.
However, when Bishop John Howe, head of the Diocese of Central Florida, read of Trinity Preparatory's intended presentation of La Cage aux Folles in a local paper, a letter was sent "officially requesting" the school's headmaster to cancel the production.
For those unfamiliar with the blockbuster musical comedy, La Cage aux Folles, based on the French play and hit film of the same title, centers on Albin and Georges, a long-time married gay couple, who run a gender-bending nightclub in San Tropez. Their world is turned topsy-turvy when their son Jean-Michel brings home his fiancé, who happens to come with her ultra-conservative parents in tow. With a book by Tony winner Harvey Fierstein and music and lyrics by Jerry Herman, La Cage aux Folles was the first Broadway musical with a stable homosexual couple at its center. Though fairly old-fashioned in style and direction (not once did George or Albin kiss in Arthur Laurents' original production), La Cage would go on to become a mainstream success with the focal points of family, unconditional love and the concept that homosexuals are capable of providing stable, loving environments for their children. Nathan Lane and Robin Williams starred in the successful 1996 remake of the original film, entitled The Birdcage.
While those involved in the Trinity Prep. production proclaimed the message of La Cage aux Folles is that of family and acceptance, the school board's executive committee and administration determined La Cage incongruous with the mission of a Christian high school and canceled the production.
Undeterred, Papin and cast member's parents rallied around the production. Around 15 offers came in from greater Orlando theatre companies who were willing to host La Cage aux Folles, with an additional invitation from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival to present the students in the production next summer.
In a statement Bishop John Howe, on behalf of Trinity Preparatory School, said, "We regret that the scheduling of this performance has been interpreted as a departure from our 40-year history as an Episcopal school. The students who worked hard to prepare for this play had neither a political nor social agenda."
Ultimately, the school and the cast and crew of La Cage aux Folles were able to come to an agreement, allowing the production to be produced off school grounds without the sponsorship of Trinity Preparatory School. Orlando Repertory Theatre will now host the production Sept. 7-9.
Papin, who is unable to comment publicly on the production due to school administration restrictions, issued the following statement in an official Trinity Prep press release: "I am quite proud of the students' tenacity and determination through this very difficult process. And I am thrilled that the students will get to perform the show on which they have worked so very hard. I am so grateful to all who supported our students' work."
Now produced by Last Chance Productions (recently created by Papin and other benefactors) La Cage aux Folles will play the Orlando Repertory Theatre, located at 1001 E. Princeton St. in Orlando, FL. Tickets, priced $10, are available by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.