‘Gigi’ at The Kennedy Center

Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe‘s Gigi, the Oscar-winning 1958 film musical that was later adapted for the Broadway stage over 40 years ago, premiered for a pre-Broadway engagement in the Eisenhower Theater at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, officially opening last night.

Vanessa Hudgens as Gigi in Gigi. Photo by Joan Marcus
Vanessa Hudgens as Gigi in Gigi. Photo by Joan Marcus

Directed by Eric Schaeffer (Follies, Million Dollar Quartet) — in a revitalized, re-envisioned modernized adaptation by British playwright and Emmy-nominated screenwriter Heidi Thomas (Call the Midwife, Cranford, Upstairs Downstairs) — the polished production, featuring High School Musical series star Vanessa Hudgens, is set for a Broadway bow, beginning on March 19th at the Neal Simon Theatre.

Based on the 1944 novella Gigi by Colette and the 1958 hit romantic comedy film of the same name, Gigi (Vanessa Hudgens) is a bubbly, free-spirited teenager living in Paris at the turn of the 20th Century being groomed by her Aunt Alicia (Dee Hoty) as a courtesan consistent in her family’s tradition.  To Alicia, love is an art, and a compulsory accomplishment in order to safeguard Gigi’s social and economic future. Fortuitously, before she is deemed ready for her social debut, she encounters the bon vivant bachelor Gaston Lachaille (Corey Cott), whom she progressively captivates as she is transformed into a charmingly poised young lady.

Set on a magnificently, intricate stage complete with glistening iron-lattice architectural exteriors and dazzling, eye-catching interiors, the magnitude of Derek McLane’s aesthetically-appealing scenic design is vastly astounding.  With an Eiffel Tower in the distance and a sweeping, spiral staircase that serves as a versatile backdrop, the resplendent stage continuously abounds with a wide array of bright, opulent costumes from five-time Tony Award-winning designer Catherine Zuber — glamourous gowns and beautifully-embellished hats for the lavishly accessorized ladies, sharp white tie and tails for the gentlemen, including timeless classic top hat. Later, in Act Two, the luxurious formal wear are supplanted with colorful pastel parasols and casually-chic bathing suits at the beach.

Under Eric Schaeffer’s well-balanced direction, the star-studded cast shines, employing a methodically melodramatic style, accentuated with dynamic choreography by Joshua Bergasse, especially in the closing number of Act One: “The Night They Invented Champagne.”

Howard McGillin as Honore Lachaille & Victoria Clark as Mamita in Gigi. Photo by Joan Marcus.
Howard McGillin as Honore Lachaille & Victoria Clark as Mamita in Gigi. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Bergasse’s creative composition is replete with dances that run the gamut of enthusiastically-energetic to more subdued and intimate.  Noteworthy numbers include the “Opening” and the spirted scene in Act Two in which Gigi’s guardians, Mamita (Victoria Clark) and Alicia (Dee Hoty), unwittingly challenge a team of attorneys in “The Contract.”

On the whole, the 29-member ensemble executes a striking show. Hudgens, in her Broadway debut, delivers an outstanding performance, physically and emotionally transforming Gigi from a naïve, bright-eyed teenager to a sophisticated young woman.  Showcasing skilled vocal range, acting and dancing ability throughout the production, including “The Parisians” in Act One and “The Letter” in Act Two, Hudgens proved that she is indeed a triple threat on stage.

Corey Cott, as Gaston, is convincing as the town’s most sought after bachelor, displaying comfortable confidence with aplomb.  Cott’s robust tenor voice is controlled yet spirited, which is particularly underscored in the iconic title tune, strategically sung in the third scene of the second act as Gaston explores his emotions and ascertains his adoration for Gigi.

Tony Award-winning Victoria Clark’s rendering of Mamita as Gigi’s protective grandmother and caretaker was resounding.  In addition to her fantastic acting talent, Clark’s voice was sensational – her vocal prowess was truly remarkable and incredibly enjoyable to hear, especially in Act One’s “Thank Heaven” and her soothing subdued solo, “Say a Prayer” in the latter half of Act Two.  Likewise, Dee Hoty was fabulous as the penetrating and passionately positioned Aunt Alicia who was devoutly devoted to keeping Gigi focused on family tradition.

Howard McGillin takes a more low-keyed, refined posture as Honoré Lachaille, Gaston’s uncle. However, he comes alive in his two musical numbers:  Act One’s “I Remember It Well” and Act Two’s “I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore.”

Steffanie Leigh as Liane d'Exelmans, Howard McGillin as Honore Lachaille, Victoria Clark as Mamita, Vanessa Hudgens as Gigi, Corey Cott as Gaston Lachaille, Dee Hoty as Aunt Alicia and the cast of 'Gigi.' Photo by Joan Marcus.
Steffanie Leigh as Liane d’Exelmans, Howard McGillin as Honore Lachaille, Victoria Clark as Mamita, Vanessa Hudgens as Gigi, Corey Cott as Gaston Lachaille, Dee Hoty as Aunt Alicia and the cast of ‘Gigi.’ Photo by Joan Marcus.

Bold, fresh and reinvigorated, Gigi is a charming and visually-stunning show that, like champagne, bubbles and simmers, flowing effervescently with splendor and elegance.

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes,with one 15-minute intermission.

Gigi plays through February 12, 2015 at The Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater – 2700 F Street, in Washington, DC.  For tickets, call (202) 467-4600, or purchase them online.

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