Monday, April 20, 2015

Review of "Gigi"

A musical can look good and sound good, but if the show doesn’t have a soul all is for naught.  So it is with the revival of Gigi.  Catherine Zuber’s costumes are a feast for the eyes; Derek McLane’s scenic design, evoking the steel structures of the Eiffel Tower and the gaiety of Maxim’s, are impressive and eye-popping; and the Alan Jay Lerner/Frederick Loewe score is a classic.  But there is very little connection with what is taking place on stage and the audience.  The main problem, unfortunately, is the star, Vanessa Hudgens as Gigi.  She is too broad in her affectations and lacking in any nuance with the role.  When she becomes a “woman” the transformation is almost instantaneous.  It’s just not believable.

Gigi is based on the 1958 Academy Award winning film of the same name.  There have been some changes to storyline, which while helpful, do not help with the overall production.  Gaston and Gigi are now closer in age and instead of the aged Honore Lachaille crooning “Thank Heave for Little Girls” it is now the job of Gig’s grandmother and aunt to present the song.

The plot of the show is simple.  The locale is a Paris.  The 1900 World Exposition has recently opened and the wealthy show no bounds. Change is in the air.  The old ways are slowly transforming life in the City of Lights.  The focus is on Gaston Lachaille (Corey Scott), the young “Sugar King” heir.  His almost daily exploits, transgressions, and travels are well-documented by the newspapers and magazines of the day.  Lachaille is a good friend of Mamita (Victoria Clark), grandmother of the young, impetuous Gigi.  Over time, Lachaille begins to fall for the 18 year old, coaxed along by both Mamita and her sister Alicia (Dee Hoty).  They, along with Lachaille’s uncle Honore Lachaille (Howard McGillin) hope the two will come together with Gigi becoming Gaston Lachaille’s mistress—not wife (Parisians at the turn of the twentieth century had some interesting values).  Gigi refuses the arrangement.  The two lovers argue, yet reconsider as love triumphs over tradition.

The Pygmalion overtones in Gigi, while present, are muted.  But the song writing duo of Alan Jay Lerner/Frederick Loewe, that also gave us My Fair Lady, have crafted a first rate score rarely heard on the Broadway stage of today.  They include such memorable numbers as “The Parisians,” “Thank Heaven for Little Girls,” “Paris is Paris Again,” “The Night They Invented Champagne,” and “Gigi.”

While Ms. Hudgens is not ideally cast in the title role and Corey Cott, as Gaston Lachaille, is too often over-exuberant the supporting cast sparkles.  Dee Hoty as Alicia may strut and bark commands, but her steely eyed gaze would stop anyone in their tracks as it does in the song “The Contract.”  Victoria Clark is outstanding as Mamita as is Howard McGillin as Honore Lachaille.  These seasoned veterans bring a sense of order and professionalism to the production.

Joshua Bergasse’s choreography is evocative of the carefree times and sumptuous nightclubs of the era. 

Director Eric Schaeffer helms a polished production, but the musical feels hollow and distant.  The main problem is his handling of the two young leads.  They show a lot of exasperation and exuberance, but don’t temper their zeal with any shading or subtlety.  Schaeffer does show a deft touch in the more intimate scenes, especially those with Clark and McGillin.  But, maybe, the material is not meant for the Broadway.  This is now the second attempt to bring the film to life on the stage.

Gigi, disappointing from Broadway to the Champs-Elysees.

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