Gigi at Civic Light Opera
The night they invented a certain champagne of a movie musical named Gigi, creator/adapters Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe were hot off their stage hit My Fair Lady, and the two shows have many similarities. But the things that really made the film soar beyond the fine music and literate lyrics were Vincent Minnelli's chic direction, the actual French location footage, and such infallible charmers as Maurice Chevalier, Louis Jourdan, Leslie Caron and Hermione Gingold in the principal roles.
Seattle Civic Light Opera has unwisely chosen the stage adaptation of Gigi as the final show in their long time home at the Jane Addams school auditorium in Lake City. Such Broadway and Hollywood stalwarts as Alfred Drake, Daniel Massey, Maria Karnilova, and Agnes Moorhead couldn't quite make the show a hit on Broadway in 1974, and CLO's version suffers from a serious shortage of star-powered charm and two hopelessly off-key and leaden central performances.
As Honore, the old roué who narrates the tale and sings many of its best songs, William Snider is heavy handed in his acting, and his frequently off-pitch singing and tendency to race ahead on song tempos ruins such delightful numbers as "Thank Heaven For Little Girls" and "I'm Glad I'm Not Young Anymore." As his grandson Gaston, the playboy who ultimately settles down and makes an honest woman out of the title heroine, Steven LeSieur has a strained and strident vocal quality, and the acting skill of, at best a promising high schooler.
As Gigi, Michele Gray is far and away the best of the cast's vocalists, and though she seems a shade mature for the childish Gigi of the early scenes, she is always professional and assured. Pity then, that Lerner and Loewe dumped two of the film's best numbers for Gigi, "The Parisians" and "Say A Prayer For Me Tonight," in favor of less distinctive pieces, "The Earth and Other Minor Things" and "In This Wide, Wide World". Stacie Hart has a warm presence and quality voice as Mamita, Gigi's grandmother, though she and Snider have no particular chemistry to put across the practically surefire comedy duet "I Remember It Well." That leaves Sabrina Prielaida's acerbic and haughty grande dame Aunt Alicia to steal the best in show honors, and she does so with zeal, style and charisma to spare. Indeed, the extended "Contract" number lead by Prielaida, Hart and several accomplished character actors is the show's comedic and musical zenith
Gregory Magyar's thuddingly slow-paced direction and Thomas Arthur Grant's repetitive choreography make a two and a half hour musical feel like four. David Maddux does Loewe's melodies justice even with a small, heavily synthesized band to work with, and the rock-star type mikes at least made the show more audible than many which have been lost due to the Jane Addams' wonky acoustics. Jeffrey Cook's set design overdoses on tulle, but succeeds with the inset locale for Mamita's house, and Richard Schaefer's lighting is attractive. Carl Bronsdon's costumes are amongst the loveliest to grace a CLO show in recent memory.
I truly wish CLO, a venerable Puget Sound musical theatre haven, a happy relocation and many more shows in their best tradition. But with Gigi, I found myself thinking thank heavens it was over as I exited the theatre.
Gigi plays through May 17 at Civic Light Opera, in the Jane Addams auditorium at 11051 34th Ave NE in Lake City. For reservations call (206) 263-2809.