‘Gigi’ at The Neil Simon Theatre in New York City

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The current stage revival on Broadway of Lerner and Loewe’s film Gigi is lovely to look at. It’s filled with principal performers in supporting roles, who have played leads on Broadway, and for those of us who’ve admired them over the years, it’s a pleasure to see three of them together, still in top form.

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

Victoria Clark has been delighting us ever since The Light In The Piazza and most recently brightened the Broadway version of  Disney’s Cinderella. Howard McGillin has been with us for decades, which include a record setting run starring in The Phantom of the Opera. Dee Hoty had leading roles in The Will Rogers Follies, and Mamma Mia! on Broadway and in eight major cities. Here we  have them as Mamita, who has been raising her granddaughter Gigi, and as Honoré, an old Parisian roué, still flirting with pretty girls in 1900 Paris. Dee Hoty is Aunt Alicia, the head of Gigi’s family, who’s determined to see that she’s properly prepared to find a suitable match, hopefully the attractive Gaston Lachaille.

Dee Hoty as Aunt Alicia. Photo © Margot Schulman.
Dee Hoty as Aunt Alicia. Photo © Margot Schulman.

At the center of the story, which first saw life as a novella by French authoress Colette, are a teenage girl on the threshold of womanhood, and a man considerably older and more worldly. The book was published in 1944. In 1951 Anita Loos adapted it into a hit play, which introduced Audrey Hepburn, unknown at the time, an actress who played small roles in films while studying dance. By sheer chance Colette met her on location while she was filming, took one look, and said, “I’ve found our Gigi,” for the casting people on the play were having a hard time finding a girl with all of the character’s passion, wit, vibrance, and boldness, someone who could be related to the elegant character actress Cathleen Nesbitt, who would play her aunt, her tutor, her mentor.

Now here we are in 2015 and Jenna Segal has engaged a British screenwriter, Heidi Thomas, to adapt the Lerner and Loewe film script and score. She and her associates clearly have high regard for their source, and they’ve stuck close to the original material.

Designers Derek McLane, Catherine Zuber, and Natasha Katz have provided sets, costumes, and lighting that offer us a dazzling and highly romanticized Paris circa 1900, that is dominated by a lacey promenade bridge, flying back drops, and colorful light and airy scenery that brings excitement to the stage again and again. In casting the would be lovers Gigi and Gaston they have cast Vanessa Hudgens and Corey Cott. Ms. Hudgens is best known to a slew of young women due to her Disney films High School Musicals 1, 2 and 3. Her entrance at the matinee I attended was greeted with applause by those who knew her work. Most of us had not seen her before. Mr. Cott spent time in Disney’s stage show Newsies as “Jack Kelly” but to most of us, this was his introduction as well.

They are both attractive, have fine robust voices and should find work again and again in future musicals if they choose to stick around.

In this, Director Eric Schaeffer’s production, he’s decided to enliven the whole show by casting younger in almost every case. Corey Cott’s “Gaston” reads in his twenties, which is not justified in the script, as we’re told he’s a man with vast experience with the ladies, a venerable man about town. Honoré was written as an old man, and in the original film he was played by Maurice Chevalier. For reasons of her own, Ms. Thomas’ adaptation has given Chevalier’s key song to other characters, so it’s not he who sings “Thank Heaven For Little Girls,” which might have sounded scary coming from far more vigorous and fit Howard McGillin, who now plays the role closer to 50 than Chevalier’s 70.

Hermione Gingold was at her best in the film as Mamita, but again she had tons of age on Victoria Clark who plays her now. “I Remember It Well” is another old favorite that doesn’t make much sense with the younger Mamita and Honoré, for neither can recall much of what happened to them during their long ago romance, yet it couldn’t have been that long ago.

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

I’ve left the youngsters for last, because they have a great burden in trying to match the power of Leslie Caron and Louis Jourdan as the leads in the film. Both were  legitimately French of course, and this story had to be set in a very French Paris — as played by the two youngsters in the current production they become two American youngsters. They have talent to spare — Ms. Hudgens has enormous charm, energy, a big voice, and Mr. Cott does manage to make the title song extremely moving as he suddenly realizes the woman of his dreams has been in his life all along, and he can only hope it’s not too late to let her know that. Their performances are in keeping with Mr. Schaeffer’s concept for the evening, but I found it a bit too much like those George Abbott directed musicals of the thirties where youth, energy, tempo were the keys. But here, these characters had little Gallic charm.

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

Joshua Bergasse did a fine job choreographing his excellent ensemble, creating beautiful stage pictures again and again. It seemed to me there were far more Lerner and Loewe numbers in the musical than there had been in the film, and as no other composers are listed for “additional material,” one can only marvel again at the range of these two masters, who composed this score just after their triumphs with Brigadoon and My Fair Lady. In a Broadway season in which so many revivals are being brought in, one can feel audiences beginning to mumble “Producers, give us something original.” When that mumble becomes a roar, perhaps they will. Meanwhile we have Something Rotten and Finding Neverland, both originals, coming up. For now, one can only hope there will be a large enough audience eager to explore this excellent material, even though in my opinion, it tries too hard to reach them.

LINK:
Gina Jun’s review of Gigi at The Kennedy Center.

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

Gigi plays at The Neil Simon Theatre – 250 West 52nd Street, in New York, NY. For tickets, call Ticketmaster.com at (877) 250-2929, visit the Box Office on Monday-Saturday from 10 AM8 PM and Sunday, 12 PM to 6 PM, or purchase them online.

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Richard Seff
RICHARD SEFF has been working in theatre since he made his acting debut in support of Claude Rains in the prize winning DARKNESS AT NOON, and he agreed to tour the next season in support of Edward G. Robinson, which took him across the nation and back for nine months. When it was over and he was immediately offered another national tour with THE SHRIKE with Van Heflin, he decided to explore other areas, and he spent the next 22 years representing artists in the theatre as an agent, where he worked at Liebling-Wood, MCA, eventually a partnership of his own called Hesseltine-Bookman and Seff, where he discovered and developed young talents like Chita Rivera, John Kander, Fred Ebb, Ron Field, Linda Lavin, Nancy Dussault and many others. He ultimately sold his interest to ICM. When he completed his contractual obligation to that international agency, he returned to his first love, acting and writing for the theatre. In that phase of his long and varied life, he wrote a comedy (PARIS IS OUT!) which brightened the 1970 season on Broadway for 107 performances. He became a successful supporting player in film, tv and onstage, and ultimately wrote a book about his journey, SUPPORTING PLAYER: MY LIFE UPON THE WICKED STAGE, still popular with older theatre lovers and youngsters who may not yet know exactly where they will most sensibly and profitably fit into the world of show business. The book chronicles a life of joyous work working in a favored profession in many areas, including leading roles in the regional theatres in his work in Lanford Wilson's ANGELS FALL. His last stage role was in THE COUNTESS in which he played Mr. Ruskin for 9 months off Broadway. Five seasons ago Joel Markowitz suggested he join him at DCTheatreScene. His accurate and readable reviews of the New York Scene led, when the time was right, for his joining DCMetroTheaterArts to continue bringing news of the Big Apple's productions just to keep you posted. He is delighted to be able to join DCMTA and work with Joel and hopes that you like what he has to say.