July 14th, 2010
NEW YORK — Hawaii and the rest of the nation and the world could learn a lesson about civil unions and non-traditional relationships via an old musical that is simultaneously providing renewed vigor as well as reviving holdover venom from folks of all persuasions who are, happily, bonding by standing up and cheering and giving the show a spontaneous thumbs up.
I’m in the midst of a Broadway vacation and am reminded of the tension and tantrums that have surrounded the civil union issue in Honolulu this month. There are some insightful lessons being shared on the Great White Way.
“La Cage Aux Folles,” rebooted with a scaled-down cast of Les Cagelles (played entirely by men in heels) and staged in a smaller theater that gives it the semblance of a large cabaret house, is art reflecting life’s lingering hatred. It is this year’s Best Musical Revival Tony Award winner, and it sweetly hurls concrete evidence that prejudice is so yesterday and that we are all human equals, no matter the sexual orientation. Especially if we can laugh about the situation and the consequences.
Both pro- and anti-camps on the matter of civil unions can learn a thing or two, since this tale — about two homosexuals, one working as an emcee in a transvestite club where his partner as the star cross-dresser — offers a profound message: be proud of who you are and shame on you if you think same-sex couples shouldn’t live with the same happiness and privileges straights enjoy.
With Kelsey Grammer as Georges, the “man” in the relationship, and Tony-winning Douglas Hodge as Albin, the impersonator extraordinaire, “La Cage” is a barrage of the obvious: sight gags, double entendres, see-sawing sexism, of guys as women singing and dancing in high heels, and snotty bureaucrats who condemn civil unions with rudeness and rigidity. You know the story — the issue of being different reaches a head when Georges’ son wants his dad to meet the rigid family of his intended bride, outing the private lives of the household where the son had two dads. Well, one who was his mom through life.
In other current Broadway hits, bias and hatred are explored on slightly different plains — and everything is sorted out, for the most part, by the final curtain. Oh, if real life were so simple.
• The racial tension of the two warring gangs, the Sharks and the Jets in “West Side Story,” causes the ultimate tragedy resulting from the friction.
• The prejudice of a white nurse, who falls for a Frenchman who fathered two dark-skinned children in the World War II-linked “South Pacific” musical, along with a lieutenant who falls in love with a Tonkinese woman knowing the relationship would be forbidden in his society, is six decades old in context, yet could make you feel queasy.
• The relationship between a black singer of rock-blues and a white deejay known for playing black music in “Memphis,” again reflects a time when being color blind was not the rule.
• A British miner-father who condemns his son, because he soars in the world of ballet instead of boxing, in “Billy Elliot,” is more familial than fantasy, but understandable and possible today.
• The phantom with the disfigured face, who loves a soprano he considers his protégé in a Paris opera house where he cavorts, in “The Phantom of the Opera,” is again a static case of judging one's appearance instead of character.
• The lass with the bewitched green skin, despised and maligned because of her physical appearance, in “Wicked,” is another case of being judged by how different you look.
But the issue of equal rights in civil unions, in “La Cage,” touches a nerve and raises a flag or two in the political football now punting around in Honolulu. Gov. Linda Lingle is calling for a public vote to decide on the matter; perhaps a “La Cage” production and its fictional sentimentality is what is needed to bring a bit of civility to the table to erase some of the bigotry and tension in real life.
Life can learn from art.
What say you?