Thursday, August 26, 2010

"I Am What I Am"

I was excited earlier this week to read about the 22-track La Cage Aux Folles revival CD from PS Classics, which will be released Sept. 28. It comes with an extensive booklet that includes an essay by La Cage book writer Harvey Fierstein and - most exciting - lyrics!

Until then, my iPod is happily stuck on the original Broadway cast recording, released in 1983. (Yes, I'm playing it over and over again. Oh, that full orchestra.)

This week, I also listened to a Masterworks Broadway podcast with composer Jerry Herman, who recounts breaking new ground with La Cage aux Folles:

"We knew that we were dealing with a subject that had never been attempted, a musical about about two men who loved each other and who had spent most of their lives together running a little cabaret in the south of France. And I loved the story, I loved what it had to say. I thought it was both funny and touching at the same time."

Herman also talked about writing the song that has become the heart of the musical: "I Am What I Am."

It's a powerful, empowering anthem sung by the drag performer Albin, who learns that the son he raised with his partner, Georges, doesn't want him present at a family event.

Albin is, of course, terribly hurt and "I Am What I Am," which ends the first act, is his response. What I appreciate is that it's not a plea for mere tolerance - he sings "I don't want praise, I don't want pity" but a statement about living your life openly, learning to love yourself.

George Hearn, the original Albin on Broadway, won a Tony Award for his portrayal. Herman said, "I am never not moved when I hear George Hearn's interpretation of that song."

I feel the same way.

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