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Broadway Reviews

Gigi

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray - April 8, 2015

Gigi Book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner. Music by Frederick Loewe. Adaptation by Heidi Thomas. Based on the novel by Colette. Directed by Eric Schaeffer. Choreographed by Joshua Bergasse. Music supervision by James Moore. Scenic design by Derek McLane. Costume design by Catherine Zuber. Lighting design by Natasha Katz. Sound design by Kai Harada. Wig and hair design by David Brian Brown. Make-up design by Jon Carter. Voice and dialect coach Ben Furey. Orchestrations by August Eriksmoen. Cast: Victoria Clark, Corey Cott, Dee Hoty, Howard McGillin, Vanessa Hudgens, 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, Ashley Yeater.
Theatre: Neil Simon Theatre, 250 West 52nd Street between Broadway and 8th Avenue
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes, with one intermission
Children Rules: No children under the age of 5 will be admitted. Everyone is required to have a ticket (even if the adult has the child in their lap).
Schedule: Tues 7:00 pm, Wed 2:00 pm, Wed 8:00 pm, Th 7:00 pm, Fri 8:00 pm, Sat 2:00 pm, Sat 8:00 pm, Sun 3:00 pm
Tickets: Ticketmaster


Vanessa Hudgens and Corey Cott
Photo by Margot Schulman

The new production of Gigi, which just opened at the Neil Simon, is a fascinating exercise in exploring just how far a revival can go—and how far it shouldn't. As pretty as a Victorian picture postcard and just as deep, it wants to capitalize on the name value of both its source material (Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's 1958 film, and the 1973 Broadway musical based on it) and its star (High School Musical's Vanessa Hudgens), while rewriting as much as it can get away with. After all, the story devised by Colette for her 1944 novella may not be immediately palatable to contemporary audiences unwilling or unable to overlook its foundational notion of a young girl being, ahem, "prepared" for a wealthy scion of industry.

I'd suggest, however, that "adapter" Heidi Thomas and director Eric Schaeffer, who premiered this version of the show at the Kennedy Center earlier this year, would have been better off leaving well enough alone. The movie, which starred Leslie Caron, Maurice Chevalier, Louis Jourdan, and Hermione Gingold, suffices yet today, with its ideal performers; lush sets, costumes, and cinematography; and superb score crafting celluloid magic under Vincente Minnelli's direction to fill in the gaps and make it clear that this is, and always was, a period piece that cannot be correctly viewed only through whatever lens may be fashionable today.


Howard McGillin and Victoria Clark
Photo by Joan Marcus

Schaeffer's production comes closer than you might have anticipated in mimicking those positives. Derek McLane's sets, though heavily relying on an intrusive and immobile dual staircase that consumes half the playing space, are gorgeous and characterful, nicely contrasting Parisian romance with back-room boredom. Catherine Zuber's costumes are just as eye-filling, particularly with regard to the women's flowing dresses and elaborate headwear. And Natasha Katz's lights wash everything with a Technicolor dream haze that translates every scene into a modern-day fairy tale. Greg Jarret's orchestra elicits some sumptuous sounds from August Eriksmoen's new charts of the classic Lerner-Loewe compositions. And Joshua Bergasse's choreography nicely combines his trademark athleticism with the sniffy, angular movements that cleverly denote the crustiest members of Paris's upper-crust.

The cast, too, is overstuffed with appropriate talent. Hudgens is an immensely likable Gigi who reinterprets Caron's restrained exuberance for our less-delicate age, and who sings with heartfelt brio, though at times (mostly during the bigger dance numbers) her glimmering smile looks pasted on. Gigi's grandmother, Mamita, is played by Victoria Clark, who balances straitlaced stodginess with clear-eyed effulgence, and sings with tremendous warmth. Howard McGillin is all quaint charm as Honoré, our narrator and Mamita's once-and-perhaps-future lover. And, as Mamita's sister Alicia, Dee Hoty brings stiff, old-world logic and a glittery-but-distant respect for reality to the woman who hopes to groom Gigi for her profitable future life.


The Cast
Photo by Margot Schulman

Alas, scant care has been taken to arrange these pieces into something that's at once different and makes sense. In an attempt to build up the main love plot between Gigi and the so-called "Sugar Prince," Gaston Lachaille (Corey Cott), Thomas has downplayed and degraded Gaston's indifference, turning him into not just a progressive thinker who's intrigued by marvelous new aviation technologies, but also someone who's outwardly pained by the cheating proclivities of his mistress, Liane (Steffanie Leigh). This makes Gaston's eventual coming around to his friend Gigi more dustily conventional, and Gaston's own transformation less pronounced. His establishing song, "It's a Bore," has been made all but nonsensical from the meddling. (Through his constant, visible struggle to give life to the denuded Gaston, and his ill-suited, reedy, and overexcited tenor, Cott gives far and away the only fully unsatisfactory performance.)

Honoré has suffered, too, his use as our guide through the era and locale's complicated social strata diminished, to the point that his role, always toeing the line of the tangential, is now much more extraneous, and his attempted rekindling of his long-ago affair with Mamita suffers as a result, despite being souped up in scene and song alike. "Thank Heaven for Little Girls" has even been stripped from him and given instead to Mamita and Alicia, drastically increasing, rather than reducing, its creepy overtones. In perhaps the most destructive change, the lovely "Say a Prayer for Me Tonight" has been transplanted to Mamita (and its title reduced to just the first three words); one assumes this was exclusively to give the golden-voiced Clark something else to sing, but Gigi's soul-stirring, desperate plea is nonsensical in this placement.

There are other issues as well—no one tries to make the lively "The Night They Invented Champagne" suffice as a first-act closer, or "I Never Want to Go Home Again" land at the start of Act II; and the 1973 numbers, if astute, aren't the equals of those first used in the film—and they prevent this Gigi from being an exceptional evening in the theatre, or the remotest patch on the film. But because so many of the individual elements are of admirably high quality, nearly every moment is at least passable—and many tick up to "above average" or even, in a few cases (most of them musical), beyond.

If that situation isn't ideal for this or any show, it is, I suppose, better than nothing. And if you're able and willing to turn off your brain for two and a half hours, it's possible to have a perfectly inoffensive time exposing yourself to what works and accepting the rest of this Gigi on its own, muddled terms.




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