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A CurtainUp DC Review
Some of the premises of the 1958 movie version of the 1944 novella by Colette remain intact. Paris, the city of light and romance, is still a place for bon vivants — but what differs is that the little girl known as Gigi who is being groomed by her knowing Aunt Alicia to be a perfectionist and courtesan (also a gold digger). She turns out to be quite genuine in her love for Gaston Lachaille, her childhood playmate. He's the toast of Paris, fawned over by many women because he is charming and wealthy, but winning the hand of Gigi is a challenge.
The musical's boy-meets girl-loses girl-gets-her back plot may be tried (also trite) but it is also true in a fairy tale sort of way. As played by the gamine Vanessa Hudgens, a veteran of musical theater since the age of eight, Gigi is vivacious, brazen and fun. She even does a cartwheel. Her voice is strong and she carries the transformation from rambunctious teenager to well-bred, elegant and poised young lady with great aplomb.
Vanessa Hudgens is a splendid example of perfect casting; so is tenor Corey Cott as Gaston Lachaille. Gaston could be a cartoonish cliché as the playboy women wish to bed and send their bills to, but Cott makes him real, most notably in his heartfelt solo "Gigi" and "In This Wide, Wide World," the duet he sings with Gigi. Talk about bliss.
The language in Heidi Thomas's adaptation has been tweaked for 21st-century sensibilities, particularly in reference to women. For those of us of a certain age, it is a special treat to hear again Alan Jay Lerner's lyrics and especially Frederick Loewe's melodic music in such songs as "Thank Heaven for Little Girls," sung by Aunt Alicia. "I Remember It Well," sung by Gigi's grandmother Mamita (Victoria Clark, in very good voice) and her former beau Honoré(Howard McGillin, somewhat stiff and hesitant) is a playful riff on how two people who were once lovers have distinctly different memories of their past together.
There is plenty of humor in "The Contract," as sung by Aunt Alicia (Dee Hoty) the haughty naughty high society courtesan who finds poverty "intolerable." She tutors Gigi in etiquette, manners and how to extract large presents such as mansions and jewels from men. Tall, elegant and filled with grace, Dee Hoty, who is always a pleasure to watch in whatever role she plays, is particularly fine as a grande dame during the Belle Epoque.
The Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra does justice to the score. Director Eric Schaeffer has assembled a winning team in bringing this show with mesmerizing imagery to the stage. Derek McClane's scenery is exquisite beginning with the arched base of an Eiffel Tower-like iron structure to the red and gold interior of famed nightclub Maxim's. Mamita and Gigi's apartment is suitably cosy and chez Aunt Alicia serves as an elegant backdrop for a lady who takes great pride in appearances. Even a letter that is transported by the wind drew sighs from the audience.
Whether she is making silhouettes of the actors, catching the swirling turquoise and purple skirts of the dancers, or adding sunlight to a beach scene, Natasha Katz's lighting is perfection, one visual treat after another. And Catherine Zuber's costumes ... wow! The dress code is white tie and top hats for the men, lavish gowns with wide-brimmed hats just slightly smaller than a flying saucer for the ladies. This is a $12 million production, and it shows.
Where the musical falters is in Act One. The exposition is quite lengthy and the relationships a bit confusing but what is really bothersome is Joshua Bergasse's camp choreography. Dancers mug mercilessly while using fey gestures that some might find over-the-top. Fortunately, by the end of Act One and certainly in Act Two which is much more enjoyable, most of the dance numbers, including a sweet soft shoe, a vigorous can can and geometric patterns favored by Hollywood's 1930's director/choreographer Busby Berkeley, are well executed.
Similarities to another Lerner and Loewe show, namely My Fair Lady, based on Pygmalion, are numerous The grooming of a young girl— a gutter snipe in My Fair Lady, a rambunctious gamine teenager in Gigi — who becomes the toast of society. Dressed in lavish costumes, and there are lots of them, to the accompaniment of many hummable melodies make both shows a pleasant experience. If Gigi seems a bit slick, so what? Pop the cork for "The Night They Invented Champagne" and much else. It is bubbly entertainment.