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Musical Theater  
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La Cage aux Folles is a lot less antiseptic in its presentation of its gay romance than, for example, My Fair Lady and The King and I are in presenting the straight equivalent. The show is also gay-influenced in its outlandish costumes, especially those worn by Albin in drag, and its privileging of performance and spectacle as means of self-expression and assertion of place in the world.

La Cage aux Folles is a huge success with straights and gays alike because it embodies at once gay values and those of the Broadway musical itself.

Falsettos and Kiss of the Spider Woman

Broadway's other openly gay musicals, William Finn's Falsettos (1992) and Kander and Ebb's Kiss of the Spider Woman (1993), use conventions of the genre in far different ways.

Falsettos, the combination of two of Finn's "Marvin" musicals, tells the story of Marvin who leaves his wife and son for a gay life with a lover; Marvin's ex-wife becomes involved with Marvin's therapist; and Marvin's lover is diagnosed with AIDS and dies at the end of the show.

Falsettos is the opposite of La Cage in presentation: It relies on suggestive sets and costumes rather than spectacle, and unlike most Broadway musicals that feature equal song and dialogue, it is mostly sung. (Falsettos is not the first Broadway musical in which singing dominates: Others include Frank Loesser's The Most Happy Fella [1956] and Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd [1979].) Nor does it feature songs clearly written to be hits, like La Cage aux Folles's "I Am What I Am" and "The Best of Times."

Falsettos emphasizes the concept of family, not only through the depiction of Marvin's traditional family but also his new one with his lover and his friends, "the lesbians next door." At the heart of Falsettos is the need for love, community, and stability, prerequisites for happiness that can also provide a hedge against disaster.

Falsettos is a little musical that was as much a commercial success on its small terms as La Cage aux Folles was on its larger level. Deserving praise for its original and clever music and lyrics, Falsettos follows in the footsteps of its illustrious, straight-themed predecessors in celebrating romance, family, and community.

La Cage aux Folles is a big musical that tells an uncomplicated, simple love story whose purpose is only to entertain, and Falsettos is a small, almost chamber musical that tells a serious story with wit and sadness.

Their successor, Kiss of the Spider Woman, combines the showmanship of La Cage aux Folles with the seriousness of purpose of Falsettos. Based on Manuel Puig's novel and the subsequent film by Hector Babenco, the musical is what the film should have been. It combines gay appreciation of the conventions of the Broadway musical with an overtly gay story.

In prison in an unnamed South American country, a gay window dresser, arrested for sex with a minor, shares a cell with a straight, overserious, political activist. During their confinement, the gay man shares his memories of the lavish production numbers of his favorite film star while the political activist slowly politicizes him.

The play's musical numbers not only feature Aurora, the film star, in dances and songs reminiscent of 1930s and 1940s film musicals (another cult favorite of gay men), but also features the prisoners in monologues and dream sequences that explore their thoughts and explain plot action. At the end of the play, the gay man, released from prison, carries a message for the activist, and is assassinated; the finale shows him united finally with Aurora in the musical of his dreams.

One of the most brilliant artistic strategies of Kiss of the Spider Woman is to use the Broadway gay sensibility, also embraced by straights, to tell a gay story. Many of Aurora's numbers are self-consciously campy and intended to be recognized as such and to be associated particularly with the contributions of gay men to popular entertainment. Kiss of the Spider Woman shows how such images function as survival tactics as dear to Molina as the political ones are to his straight, puritanical cellmate.

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