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Review: ‘Gigi’ at Washington County Playhouse

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For a taste of France and classic musical theatre, Washington County Playhouse in Hagerstown is serving Lerner and Lowe’s Gigi through August 5th. It is a rarely produced musical, faithfully remounted in the spirit of the original show.

Gigi, based on a Colette novella and 1958 film musical, tells the tale of a young Parisienne girl being groomed as a courtesan who catches the eye of wealthy bachelor Gaston Lachaille. The original Broadway production debuted in 1973, and a 2015 revival was directed by DC’s own Eric D. Schaefer, starring Vanessa Hudgens in the title role.

Ellen Diehl and Mat Levine in Gigi. Photo by Travis Fouche.

While the material doesn’t always hold up to today’s sensibilities of political correctness, director Shawn R. Martin does not shy away from ribaldry, starting right off the bat with the unsettlingly lecherous “Thank Heaven for Little Girls,” sung by the aging narrator Honore (a charming, silver-voiced Steve Steele). Once that band-aid is ripped off, so to speak, we are transported to 1901 France, and able to appreciate the off-color humor of French courtesans and extra-marital affairs – all subtle enough to go over the heads of younger audience members.

As the title character, young Ellen Diehl gives a tour de force performance with gorgeous vocals, natural charisma, and pathos. She is well matched romantically with Mat Levine as a misanthropic Gaston. Levine’s renditions of the hysterical “She Is Not Thinking of Me” and the heartfelt “Gigi” are the highlights of the show.

In the supporting cast, Emily Kendal Gitome and Chelsea Bondarenko play somewhat young for their respective roles of Mamita and Aunt Alecia, but turn in amusing and memorable performances. Standouts are Katelyn Shreiner as the flirtatious Liane D’Exelmans, and Terry Moore’s rich voiced Maitre Du Fresne.

Designers Sue and Jim Eckel, Travis Fouche, Charlemagne McNeil, and Arrick Smith create various Parisienne scenes with simple artwork, minimal furniture, period costumes, rosy lighting, and warm sounds of the ocean and orchestra. The intimate Washington County Playhouse venue enhances the many two or three character scenes, but does not serve Gigi’s lavish dance numbers as well. A small ensemble serviceably executes Chelsea Bondarenko’s simple but effective choreography.

A summer getaway to turn of the century France is just a short drive to Hagerstown. This Gigi is highly recommended.

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with one 20-minute intermission.

Gigi plays through August 5 , 2017, at the Washington County Playhouse Dinner Theater and Children’s Theater – 44 North Potomac Street, in Hagerstown, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 739-7469, or purchase them online.

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