Vanessa Hudgens is a brief breath of spring amid this harsh winter as the spirited gamine Gigi in a new, Broadway-bound production of the Lerner and Loewe musical Gigi now underway at the Kennedy Center under the direction of Eric Schaeffer.
Hudgens, an alum of the Disney series “High School Musical,” is an adorable bundle of energy, youthful impertinence and carefree guile as Gigi, the reluctant next-in-line from a dynasty of famous Parisian courtesans. Based in Colette’s 1944 novel, Gigi depicts the heroine moving from schoolgirl to sophisticate and capturing the attention of society’s most eligible bachelor, the rich and bored Gaston (Corey Cott).
Set in 1900, the production captures the art nouveau beauty of Paris with rapturous violet-tinged light (Natasha Katz did the lighting design), airy filigree iron work that recalls the Eiffel Tower and other period structures, courtesy of scenic designer Derek McLane, and sumptuous, blossom-trimmed and beaded gowns in pastel macaroon hues by costume designer Catherine Zuber.
It is in this painterly setting that Parisian society mingles, flirts and gossips. Gigi, in the care of her warmly indulgent grandmother Mamita (a superb Victoria Clark), eavesdrops and soaks up every detail of what café society is wearing, doing, and romancing—her particular interest being family friend Gaston and his latest mistress, the floridly lovely and cunning Liane (Steffanie Leigh).
After the pair break-up, rather grandly and romantically, n’est pas?, Gaston starts spending more time with Gigi and Mamita, treating them to a weekend at the seashore. Where Gigi just sees innocent fun, her aunt Alicia (Dee Hoty, delightfully haughty and grand dame), a legendary demimondaine, sees opportunity. Alicia works double-time trying to turn Gigi into a woman of the world, and to get Gaston to do the right thing—make Gigi his mistress and commit large sums of money and real estate to her care.
How Gigi responds to being thrust into the world’s oldest profession when she yearns for the modern and new—a passion she shares with Gaston—is one of the charms of this Gigi, which has been updated to a more contemporary sensibility by Heidi Thomas.
Why Gigi would need tempering for today’s audience is beyond me. How are Alicia’s aspirations for Gigi different than Mama Kardashian, grooming her girls from the crib to hang off the elbows of famous athletes and celebrities?
Luckily, the score remains a beguiling ear-worm, with such songs as “The Night They Invented Champagne,” “I Remember It Well,” “Gigi,” “I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore” and “Thank Heavens for Little Girls,” which has blissfully been re-assigned to Mamita and Alicia, rather than sung by the aging roue Honore (Howard McGillin, amiable but oddly restrained), which keeps the perv vibe thankfully low.GIGI
Jan 16 – Feb 12
The Kennedy Center
2700 F Street, NW
2 hours, 30 minutes with 1 intermission
Tickets: $45 – $145
Tuesdays thru Sundays
Tickets or call 202 467-4600
——————— Also lowering the creepy factor is that the age-range has been altered, with Gaston now in his early 20s and Mamita, Alicia and Honore are vibrantly middle-aged. The youthening of Gigi works, for the most part. Cott has the looks and the pipes to play a dashing playboy, and the little bit of dancing he does shows athletic agility, but a certain je ne sais quoi is lacking. He seems quintessentially American—can-do and robust, more corn-fed than caviar-fed.
The same goes for McGillin, who ably handles the duets with the formidable Clark as Mamita, but as the incorrigible skirt-chaser Honore, he doesn’t have the debonair winking quality necessary for the role. And having he and Clark do a vaudvillian soft-shoe and cakewalk to “I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore” seems out of place and again, plainly American.
Amidst such settings as the plush red velvet and gilt of Maxim’s, you have the cast in Paris, but not of it. You don’t want people going around talking like Pepe Le Pew, but on the other hand you don’t get any sense of the insouciance, the old world sophistication, the mixture of ennui and energy that typifies Parisian high society.
Hudgens is a delight as Gigi and the production is as pretty as a Renoir pastel portrait. Yet on the whole–with the exception of Hoty and Clark, who embody the decorous allure of turn-of-the-century women of their station–there is not a lot particularly, charmingly Parisian about Gigi.
This production of Gigi opens on Broadway at the Neil Simon Theare on March 19, 2015.
For more details, visit GigiOnBroadway
Gigi . Book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, music by Frederick Loewe . New book adaptation by Heidi Thomas . Directed by Eric Schaeffer . Featuring Vanessa Hudgens, Victoria Clark, Corey Cott, Dee Hoty, Howard McGillin Steffanie Leigh, Cameron Adams, Kathryn Boswell, Max Clayton, Madeleine Doherty, Ashley Blair Fitzgerald, Hannah Florence, Alison Jantzie, Brian Ogilvie, James Patterson, Justin Prescott, Jeffrey C. Sousa, Manny Stark, Tanairi Sade Vazquez, Richard White, Amos Wolff and Ashley Yeater. Scenic design: Derek McLane . Costume design: Natasha Katz . Sound design: Kai Harada . Musical director: James Moore . Orchestrations: August Eriksmoen . Presented by The Kennedy Center . Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.