Monday, June 1, 2015

'Gigi' Delights New Generations On Broadway!

The very name conjures up visions of frothy French merriment.
And the words and music linger in our minds:

Gigi, am I a fool without a mind
Or have I merely been too blind to realize?
Oh Gigi, why you've been growin' up
Before my very eyes

But often the problem has been that Gigi was a bit too grown up right from the start.
How can a girl be transformed into a woman right before our "very eyes" in the span of two or three hours on stage or in the movies?
At least in Colette's novella of Gigi we had some time to savor it all -- we could take the story more slowly and imagine Gigi blossoming into a great beauty.
Of course, the original Gigi stage play starred Audrey Hepburn and her waif-like presence made the transformation believable. In the process, she captivated Broadway and became a star.
Then Lerner and Lowe gave Gigi's story music but instead of bringing the story back to Broadway they launched Gigi, the musical as a movie. In the process they introduced us to the beautiful Leslie Caron, gave Maurice Chevalier the dubious honor of singing Thank Heaven For Little Girls and led us to believe that Gigi could only be performed (and/or sung) by French actors or American actors who were able to carry off a phony French accent. We needed to hear that touch of French throughout the show, otherwise it just wasn't GheeeGheee! We weren't as well-travelled then, or as sophisticated.
Then, in 1973 Gigi, the live musical finally came to Broadway. But it simply didn't seem to captivate audiences the way the movie did. It ran for a few months and closed.
And that was pretty much the end of Gigi -- until now.
Now, Gigi is back on Broadway in a production freshly transported from the Kennedy Center in Washington where it had a successful tryout.
This time, Gigi is younger, fresher, more aware and more alive than she's been in years.
The faux-French heaviness is gone. There are no more French accents. The characters are more human and down-to-earth. And while Thank Heaven For Little Girls is still in the show it isn't sung by old men. Rather, it's sung (appropriately) by Gigi's aunt and grandmother. This move alone makes all the difference in the world because they are the real engineers of Gigi's transformation.
You see, Gigi is at its heart a naughty tale.
The story concerns Gigi, a free-spirited teenaged girl living in Paris at the turn of the 20th century. She is being groomed as a courtesan ( a high-class prostitute) by her aunt (relentlessly) and her grandmother (reluctantly), in her family's tradition. Before she is deemed ready for her social debut, she encounters the bon vivant bachelor Gaston Lachaille, whom she captivates as she is transformed into a charmingly poised young lady.

On its surface this is not a pretty story. But this is the Belle Epoch Paris of long ago and the story is presented with such bubbly subtlety that before we realize what's actually happening we've all been seduced. And, in 2015 nothing shocks us anyway.
This show is filled with lush music and lyrics: I Remember It Well, I'm Glad I'm Not Young Anymore, The Night They Invented Champagne, A Toujours and the wondrous title song, performed so well by Broadway's newest heartthrob, Corey Cott that it will take your breath away.
This is a Gigi for a new generation -- a Gigi for millennials and even younger theater-goers. In fact, it's a Gigi perfectly designed to attract these groups to such a classic.
And much of this has to do with the presence of Vanessa Hudgens as Gigi. The at once playful and exotic Hudgens was a child star who became best known for her role as Gabriella Montez in the Disney Channel's High School Musical and its follow-up films.
Hudgens is simply marvelous as Gigi - projecting an innocence masking its own share of savvy that eventually turns into budding sophistication. Hudgens really does make the transformation within the course of Gigi's 140+ minutes and she pulls it all off with aplomb. When she joins with Cott and the fantastic Victoria Clark to bring down the first act curtain for The Night They Invented Champagne, it's one of Broadway's most intoxicating moments of the season. You can literally feel the fine French bubbly tickling your nose. It's glorious!
Clark has been nominated for a Tony for her role as Gigi's grandmother and it's deserved. But the show warranted more Tony nominations beyond this one. Shame on the Tony Awards nominees who turned out to be, in the words of the New York Times "merciless" this year.
Sixty-four years after Audrey Hepburn made Gigi come alive on the Great White Way, Broadway now has a Gigi worthy of the original.
Gigi is more than mere "eye candy," as one critic termed it. Rather, it's a timeless tale with great music, lavish sets and costumes and a superb cast interpreting it all anew and giving it relevant meaning in a first-rate production that's worth a visit.
Choose L'amour!

No comments:

Post a Comment