Thursday, April 9, 2015

Margin Notes: Gigi

Vanessa Hudgens as Gigi. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Seen on: Monday, 3/30/15.
My grade: A. Really just a stellar production all around.

Plot and Background
Paris, 1900. Honore, an aging bon vivant, celebrates the glories of l'amour, while his rich nephew Gaston is heading toward another break up with his current mistress. Meanwhile, Gaston's young friend Gigi, raised by her grandmother and great aunt, is dismayed and confused by Paris's fixation on matters of the heart. But as she starts to come into her own maturity, Gaston notices, and, well ... sparks fly. Gigi was originally adapted from the 1945 Colette novel into an Oscar-winning film by Lerner and Loewe in 1958, then later turned into a stage musical in 1973. This production has a revised script by Heidi Thomas, and premiered first at Washington, D.C.'s Kennedy Center in January this year before transferring to Broadway.

What I Knew Beforehand
I've seen the film numerous times, so was fairly familiar with the story and score. I also knew we were in for some revisions, to smooth over some of the less-acceptable-in-these-here-times aspects of the narrative.

Major Changes
The primary change was to Gaston's character, which - let's face it - needed some revision. No longer the bored cynic, he instead values innovation over romance, frequently visiting the World's Fair, and talking enthusiastically of various technological advances. He's also cast considerably younger (and sweeter-faced) than in the film, and so seems more able to be Gigi's equal, and more deserving of her love, than Louis Jourdan could.

I don't remember the score perfectly enough to speak to every particular change, but the two major revisions I noted were to the men's songs - "Thank Heaven For Little Girls," formerly the rather uncomfortable anthem sung by Honore, is now shared by Mamita and Aunt Alicia and transformed into a gentle argument (think the film revision of "America" for West Side Story but with less dancing); and Gaston's duet with Honore, "It's a Bore," is revised to no longer be a blanket rejection by Gaston of every one of Honore's suggestions, but rather a conversation with Gaston making his own suggestions of values beyond romance in Paris.


Play: This was just utterly lovely, all around. It stayed faithful to what made the original film charming, while working to improve some of its more problematic elements (a career-long issue for the misogynistic Lerner and Loewe, it seems). I loved the design of it, the staging of it, the casting - everything working together to make a perfectly enjoyable evening. (not having seen King and I yet, I feel like if the race for best revival were between Gigi and On the Town, it would honestly just break down to which show or story you preferred originally). As for the revisions, they mostly worked - both Gigi and Gaston were more dynamic figures, and it was nice to see Gigi with a bit more agency. However, Gaston's reformation was still hamstrung by his songs. His rant in the title song is still just as nasty and infantilizing, for all that Corey Cott tries to soften it. That song was written to fit the film Gaston, and not the stage Gaston.

Cast: The cast really did have wonderful chemistry with each other - the sense of relationships, that these people really do care for each other deeply, ran throughout and gave the simple love story meaning and depth. Victoria Clark's shimmering soprano and subtle acting gave Mamita a gravitas and a warm heart needed to ground the family unit. Vanessa Hudgens, while no great actress, was nonetheless an extremely entertaining performer, with a lively infectious energy, a strong clear singing voice, and a light easy foot with the choreography. Dee Hoty stole every one of her scenes with perfectly delivered sugar-crusted zingers (Justin Prescott also doing adorable work as her butler). Corey Cott was everything charming and sweet, even as he had to wrangle with his inconsistently-written character. His performance of the title song was lovely and heartfelt. Perhaps the reason the show worked as well as it did was because of how believable the love was between Gigi and Gaston.

Design: Derek McLane built a beautiful set with an ornate iron staircase as its centerpiece - a nod perhaps to Gaston's affection for new technological advancements, while still staying true to Honore's romantic notion of Paris. The trees are stained glass, Alicia's parlor is drapes, Mamita's home a wall of pictures - everything achieving a lovely balance of detail and minimalism. Natasha Katz's lighting helps shape the space, changing it from a bright sunny day near the Eiffel Tower to the lush red interior of Maxim's. Catherine Zuber festooned the women in sumptuous gowns (or swimming costumes) every color in a flower garden. All this led to a lush and loving frame to the story being told.


Running: Now playing at Neil Simon Theatre - Opening April 8, 2015.
Category: musical
Length: 2 hours, 30 minutes, including intermission.

Creative Team

Book & Lyrics: Alan Jay Lerner
Music: Frederick Loewe
New Book Adaptation: Heidi Thomas
Director: Eric Schaeffer
Designers: Joshua Bergasse (Choreography), Derek McLane (Set), Catherine Zuber (Costume), Natasha Katz (Lighting), Kai Harada (Sound), David Brian Brown (Wig & Hair), Jon Carter (Make-Up), August Eriksmoen (Orchestrations).
Cast: Vanessa Hudgens, Corey Cott, Victoria Clark, Howard McGillin, Dee Hoty, 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, Manuel Stark, Tanairi Sade Vazquez, Richard White, Amos Wolff, Ashley Yeater.

Victoria Clark, Vanessa Hudgens, and Corey Cott as Mamita, Gigi, and Gaston.
Photo by Joan Marcus.

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