How is it that a musical so predictable, that you are having thoughts of your psychic abilities, can leave you so thoroughly enchanted, so completely mesmerized? This is the conundrum that we faced on opening night as The Kennedy Center presented, Gigi, under the impeccable direction of Tony Award and Helen Hayes Award winner Eric Schaeffer. The musical adaptation written by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe won both Oscars and Tonys in 1958, is slated to knockout Broadway once again in March. This musical along with its bright lights, dazzling stage, turn of the century couture, brilliant casting also demonstrates remarkable choreography and the voices are luscious. However, the musical is not without its critics, because original it is not. A 1959 reviewer for The New York Times, Bosley Crowther called Gigi “a musical film that bears such a basic resemblance to My Fair Lady (also written by Lerner and Loewe) that the authors may want to sue themselves.” However anticipated the plot, the audience will certainly be entertained and delighted, but certainly not at all surprised.
The glitz, the glamour, the stars, the music, costumes and set is everything that a Broadway hit demands.
A musical revival is based on the 1944 novella “Gigi” by Colette, which became a movie, produced in 1951 than a Broadway Musical in 1959. The title role, played by Venessa Hudgens, was keenly cast by savvy casting director Tara Rubin, for Ms. Hudgen’s stature, smile and those adorable bangs resembling the actress Audrey Hepburn who originated the role in 1951. Her sweet voice is the perfect blend of lyrical and clear, smooth and saucy. She enters the show in a dress that looks to be the Catholic frock as it brought back the image of one of my favorite childhood books, Madeline. That dress is how the costume designer, five-time Tony Award® winning Catherine Zuber differentiates our star. The rest of the costuming is richly seductive, exuding wealth and class of the era, with fabrics, colors and fashion rivaling King and I, Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast. Scenic design by Tony Award® winner Derek McLane is magical. Rooms drop onto the stage from above, creating true Parisian glory. They even brought in the Eiffel Tower and a staircase that would make the Phantom turn pale and set it on the stage for our enjoyment. Under the exquisite musical Direction of James Moore, the songs in both lyrics and delivery are enchanting. The complex choreography by Emmy Award winner Joshua Bergasse shows that a great musical can have dancers that can can-can while still singing. It is worth mentioning that productions like this do not come without plenty of hard cold cash. This splendid budget is the producers’ headache and Jenna Segal, Eion and Mia Hu, Jeremiah Harris and Darren DeVerna and Merrie Davis have done it. It is mentioned that Ms. Segal has been dreaming of bringing this to the stage since she was a child. It was worth the wait.
Sweet innocent Gigi’s manner has the audience captivated contrasted with the sexy, mature, styling of the French sophisticated eligible ladies of the stage. Gigi just doesn’t understand the Parisians and she sings about it of course. Her transformation is not parallel to Eliza Doolittle, as our Gigi is well bred, while energetic and willful. Sly, handsome bon vivant Gaston Lachaille, played by Corey Cott, is cynical of happiness, marriage and women in general. His dulcet tenor voice is both strong and playful and he is a convincing playboy of the stage. To Gaston, women and everything about Paris is boring, as he sings, “It’s a Bore” believing that technology and progress is exciting, but that living as one of the elite in Paris is a completely dull.
His uncle, the handsome, Honoré Lachaille, acted by that delicious talent, Howard McGillin, tries to convince his nephew of the joy that he should feel being the most eligible bachelor in Paris. Representing the happily unattached older generation, Honoré is a bit of a cad, having loved Gigi’s grandmother, and living with the freedom and loneliness of the unattached. So intriguing is Gaston to the gossip columns that he needs only to look at a woman and the newspapers print an article about prises de la journée. As the show begins, that woman dujour is none other than Liane d’Exelmans, played by the voluptuous blond bombshell Steffanie Leigh who captures the audience’s attention making us laugh and admire the true genius of comedic musical theater. She possesses a strong voice and is an amazingly elegant dancer and is admired by all for her voice and grace but unfortunately, like all women seem to be to Gaston, unfaithful. While Gaston has bought Liane a flat, and given her an allowance and jewels, she searches for someone more interesting, making our young aristocrat convinced that women are never faithful, never interesting.
Gigi on the other hand is young, effervescent and has been a family friend for many years. She is a delightful game player and has the body of a tomboy without the pretense of wanting to charm, she is fascinating. She seems so young in age and maturity that our poor little rich boy doesn’t understand that he is about to be plowed over by nothing more than puberty. Helped with her entry into society is her grandmother, Madame Alvarez, called Mamita by Gaston, is elegantly acted by Victoria Clark. Helped in her “education” is Mamita’s sister Alicia, played by the luscious Dee Hoty, the exceptionally glamorous aging escort, she meets with Gigi attempting to teach her the social graces necessary to land a rich man. Men are only good for keeping Alecia in beautiful, jewels, clothing, home and more jewels. Did I mention that she was given an enormous emerald by an appreciative king? While the audience knows exactly who that putz is, Gigi is seemingly oblivious!
The sisters sing the most memorable song from the show, “Thank Heavens for Little Girls,” without them what would little boys do?” Other memorable songs that most of the audience recognized was the heartwarming, “I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore” sung by Mamita and Honoré. They go on to steal another scene singing, “I Remember It Well” demonstrating that men don’t remember things as they were, but as they want them to be. The amour that could have been, but never was, helps to neatly push the naïve generation to not reprise their seniors’ lonely decisions.
The glitz, the glamour, the stars, the music, costumes and set is everything that a Broadway hit demands. Remember where you heard it folks. Go see this one here while it is in DC before it wins the Tony Awards in every category and becomes the impossible $200 ticket to get!
Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes with a 20 minute intermission.
Ages: 10 and older, mature themes.
Gigi runs through February 12, 2015 at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F Street, NW Washington, DC 20566. For tickets and information call 800-444-1324 or 202-467-4600 or click here.