It was standing room only for the students of Trinity Prepartory School of Winter Park, Florida, who put on their production of La Cage aux Folles at the Universal Orlando Theater. Adam Hetrik of Playbill News wrote:
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.
When the show was publicized at the start of the school year, controversy erupted.
(The) 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, (Department head Janine) 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.
The cancellation might have been the end, but news of the move brought forward both a flood of protest and offers from area theater companies and arts groups to put on the show. Playbill reported that the students received at least 15 offers to stage the production. After negotiations it was decided to hold the production at Universal Orlando, but without the official sponsorship of Trinity Prep. Read more here.
Tanya Caldwell of the Orlando Sentinel reported that over 300 people attended the performance on opening night.
The students took the show to Orlando Repertory Theatre after a week of debate about whether the bishop overstepped his bounds or held his moral ground. At least three other theaters also opened their doors to the group.
At least 300 parents, peers and neighbors arrived for the opening night, laughing at the jokes, smiling during the solos and whistling as grinning drag queens danced across the stage.
The Broadway musical has won several awards and was later tuned into an American movie called The Birdcage, which starred Robin Williams and Nathan Lane. La Cage features a gay couple in which one partner runs a French nightclub and the other performs there as a drag queen. The couple has been together for 20 years but make changes when their son bring home his fiancee and her conservative parents.
According to Playbill, Bishop Howe issued the following statement:
“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.”
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.”