Why Was the Funniest Song in La Cage aux Folles Cut in Boston?

Seth Rudetsky   Why Was the Funniest Song in La Cage aux Folles Cut in Boston?
This week, Seth gets the inside scoop on the creation of the hit Jerry Herman musical.
George Hearn and Gene Barry with the cast of La Cage aux Folles.
George Hearn and Gene Barry with the cast of La Cage aux Folles. Martha Swope / The New York Public Library

Happy Anniversary! Yes, this week is the six year anniversary of my first young adult novel! My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan was released this week in 2012 and I did a big, fat book release performance at Barnes and Noble.

It “starred” me as Justin Goldblatt, the know-it-all, love-handled 15-year-old with a Jewfro; Rory O’Malley as my vegan, Marianne Williamson-spouting best friend Spencer; Matt Cavenaugh as the sexy/manipulative football player I’m in love with; and Andrea Burns as his naive girlfriend…and the girl I’m weirdly forced into dating as part of my plan to get the football player. Suffice it to say, my plan backfires. You can watch our performances here PLUS the songs I made all the actors sing as part of the event!

Seth Rudetsky_Hamilton_Column

You can get that book and the sequel, The Rise and Fall of a Theater Geek here.

This weekend I saw Hamilton with my niece Eliana and, boy, do I feel bad for any cast of A Chorus Line. Why? Because we watched it from standing room! OMG! That is a lot of standing! And that’s what that everyone has to do in A Chorus Line when it’s not their song/scene. They don’t get to go backstage and relax. They don’t even get to go to the side of the stage and sit and watch like the cast of Chicago. No. They have to stand. My dogs were killin’ me! And I wasn’t even in Cassie heels. I was in Morales sneakers. Anyhoo, the show was in great shape and it was especially great to see me friends Mandy Gonzales (who plays Eliza Schuyler) and James Monroe Iglehart (Lafayette/Jefferson) make it their own with full sass. Mandy’s voice is so crazily powerful! Watch my Obsessed with “The Beast”!

And I was not at all surprised to see James rap up a storm. Here he is, off the cuff, in one of my Obsessed videos.

I had Freddie Gershon on my SiriusXM talk show Seth Speaks. Freddie is the Grand Poobah of Music Theatre International that licenses tons and tons of musicals…including Disaster! Freddie has had an incredible career. At the beginning of the 80s, he was in quasi-retirement…mainly because he made some delicious money partnering with Robert Stigwood on two big fat film hits: Grease and Saturday Night Fever. He told me that Stigwood didn’t like all of the songs in the stage version of Grease, and asked Olivia Newton-John’s music producer to get some more songs for the film…and that’s how they got “Hopelessly Devoted To You” and “You’re The One That I Want.” Then he wanted a title song, and went to Barry Gibb. Barry wrote it, but wasn’t available to sing it. He said there’s one American who has the same type of high voice…and he recommended Frankie Valli. Hence this:

Freddie talked about the original production of La Cage aux Folles. Allan Carr had the rights to the original film, but there were tons of negotiating problems with the creative team he assembled to write the musical. The rights were about to revert to David Merrick so he had to do something quickly.

Jerry Herman was brought to him as a possible composer/lyricist, and his take was very emotional, not cerebral. He thought of the musical as being about the love of two parents for their child. Allan Carr loved it and he was hired. Allan called Freddie and told him that he needed a bunch of money to produce it, or else he’d lose the rights. Freddie went to Jerry Herman’s townhouse on a snowy day and listened to a 30-minute version of the show with Jerry Herman playing and Arthur Laurents narrating. Freddie teared up from it, and then asked how much money they needed. The answer: five million dollars. I assumed he really teared up then.

He got half the money from Jimmy Nederlander (the Shuberts were interested but wanted Michael Bennet to direct), and asked for the Palace Theatre. Jimmy thought it was a bizarre choice because it wasn’t on “theatre row.” Freddie said that Alan Carr wanted the Palace because of the rich history (Judy Garland!), and because it’s opposite the TKTS booth and everyone would see the marquee! Then Freddie asked that the show open in August. Nederlander told him that shows never open in the summer! Well, Allan knew that the summer was full of tourists and there’d be heavy traffic passing the theatre and tickets would sell. Freddie then did two backers auditions and raised the rest of the money.

But that’s not to say it was perfect when it was out-of-town. There was a song that the father of the bride sang. If you remember, he’s a horrific right wing politician. Well, he had a song in act one that brought down the house, and it was all about his love of minorities. And the minorities he lists in the song are all called by the most offensive names there are—Archie Bunker style! Like I said, the song was a hit… in the workshop.

Suddenly, they were in Boston and Arthur was watching the show from the back of the theatre. He soon asked Allan to stand with him in the back. During that number, suddenly there was a lot of shifting in seats and coughing. What happened? Well, the audience was supposed to be against that character, but Arthur realized they were perhaps seeing some of themselves in him, and it made them uncomfortable. The song had to be cut, but Jerry Herman had to agree. The next night, Jerry stood with them at the back. As soon as it was over, Jerry said “It’s in the trunk!” (Referring to a trunk song, which are songs that are written for shows and not used). However, Jerry had one stipulation: he said he would not be the one to tell Jay Garner, who played the father, because by cutting that song, it meant he wouldn’t enter until act two! The cuts were made and the rest is history, La Cage went on to win a bunch of Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

Speaking of jerry Herman trunk songs, here’s one that almost stayed in the trunk…until he changed some lyrics and put it in Mame. Andrea McArdle sounds amazing!

All right, on this note I shall peace out, but remind you to come see Kelli O’Hara and me in Scottsdale, Arizona this Saturday and then San Francisco on Sunday! Details here.

And Watch her amazingness here on a brilliant song written by Dan Lipton and David Rossmer.

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