"I hadn't auditioned for anybody in 30 years," he said. But he did, and, at the end, the producer stood up and applauded. Thus Gene Barry became the star of the hit Broadway musical, "La Cage aux folles" in 1983, at the Palace Theatre in New York City.
If there was any apprehension about playing the role of a homosexual, it was offset by the fact that it offered a tremendous boost to his career when his career really needed it. "I wanted the role enough to do it. I've been trying to come back to New York for years. This is the beginning of my re-entry into the world of the theatre, to receive the acceptance of my peers and to stay in theatre for as many years as I can. It's a thrilling experience for me."
The musical was based not on the popular film "La Cage aux folles," but on Jean Poiret's Paris stage hit of the same title. It was set in St. Tropez and concerned the owner of a homosexual nightclub, played by Gene Barry, and his transvestite lover and star of the club, played by George Hearn. Barry was nominated for the coveted Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical, losing to George Hearn. "La Cage aux folles" won the Award for Best Musical. With over 500 performances during the course of its run, it ranked in the top 10 for long-running Broadway musicals, and was the first musical ever to give center stage to a homosexual love affair. When asked about his character, Barry replied, "I'm not playing a homosexual - I'm playing a person who cares deeply about another person. The role is loving another person onstage. It doesn't matter whether it's a man, a woman or a giraffe; it has nothing to do with sexuality, as far as I'm concerned. I play the dignity of the man, his concern for his lover and his concern and love for his son. It's no different from any other part - it's just acting. I'm just playing a role."
After a year on Broadway, Gene Barry joined the road company in San Francisco at the Golden Gate Theatre and then in Los Angeles at the Pantages Theatre for a long-running performance. That was the first time he had done theatre in Los Angeles, although he'd had offers before. "That's everything an actor ever dreams about. Coming home with a hit musical. My pictures were never that great. Sure, my TV series got some attention. But your colleagues don't give you the same adulation for films and television as they do when you're in a Broadway hit. This has been a glorious, most satisfying and tiring year."
A recording of "La Cage aux folles" with the original cast is available on cassette and CD. A video recording of the performance at the Palace Theatre is in the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, The Billy Rose Theatre Collection.