As far as musical revival choices in 2015 go, Gigi is a precarious one. Based off of a musical adaptation by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, which in turn was based off the Academy award winning 1958 movie adaptation of the 1944 Colette novella of the same name, it has always been seen as the slightly seedier, and slightly more sexist version of My Fair Lady (which, no matter how much you love it, you have to admit is pretty seedy and sexist in and of itself).
The story (set in 1900 in Paris) concerns a young girl (Gigi) groomed to be (lets not mince words here) a kept woman/courtesan by her elders, and the transformative power of love she finds in the arms of a man she has known since she was in diapers and who now, seeing her blossom, is ready for a deeper relationship. Despite an army of ardent fans across the world (which include MANY a little girl), the original’s age structure (she was 16, he was in his 30s) is enough to make today’s audiences uncomfortable, and the non-PC way certain songs were handled (charmingly, of course) would CERTAINLY not fly, especially not in a city like DC. And DC is where the 2015 version of Gigi is doing its exclusive pre-Broadway engagement.
AND YET … it works. And when it works it really works and when it (sporadically) doesn’t, it still mostly makes up for it with glittering costumes, sets and even more glittering voices of the cast.
Needless to say, this new reiteration has has some tweaks. Heidi Thomas, the creator of the proto-period-feminist BBC hit “Call the Midwife”, was called in to adjust the book, with our Gigi now being 18, a little more aware of both her limitations as a girl in her position BUT ALSO her rights, her Gaston now being re-imagined as a man in his 20s, and maybe most importantly and visibly, the once Maurice Chevalier sung “Thank Heaven (for little girls)” is now no longer a old-man-in-a-park number but a song shared between Gigi’s two aunts and caretakers, marveling at her blossoming into a woman. All better now. As they said in another famed musical: “a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down in the most delightful way”.
The cast does it justice too. The most-talked about member is obviously Vanessa Hudgens who, in person, is such a slip of a girl that the word “Gamine” seems to be made for her, and she does a great job of the unenviable role that requires: a. ongoing comparisons to the one and the only Leslie Caron (the 1958 movie’s Gigi) and b. to spend most of the first act just, well, giggling. The girl does have a great set of pipes in that tiny body and in the second act, once the aforementioned blossoming is underway, she sparkles and shines commendably (well aided by Catherine Zuber’s clearly Hepburn inspired make-over costumes). Corey Cott is a nice enough Gaston and while he doesn’t quite measure up to the dapperness standards set by Louis Jourdan, his clear voice and open face make him a much more suitable match for our Gigi.
Still, it is the “grown-ups” that walk away from the show. Victoria Clark and Dee Hotty play Gigi’s aunts Inez (Mamita) and Alicia with flair and a great sisterly chemistry, and Maurice Chevalier’s shoes are filled, a little more languidly than before, by Howard McGillin as Honore, Gaston’s ne’er do-well uncle who has a regret or two about his youthful decisions regarding Mamita (“I Remember it Well” is a wryness highlight of the play).
Everyone giggles and pouts and winks and nudges and stomps and slinks along to their respective numbers finely choreographed by Joshua Begasse, ably supported by a very game company (particularly in their element in the nightlife scenes) and a thirteen piece orchestra led by Joshua Moore. It is a party of a show, and a party well thrown.
In the end, the real question here is: does Gigi has what it takes to be a Broadway success? And yes, it does. It is broad and fun and smart enough to be just modern enough to both not alienate the original fans and not (overly) offend the new ones. And yes, it is a truly good time in a way that we maybe don’t get to experience in theatres quite often enough anymore. But is it great? Probably not quite. And, in the end, that is ok.
GIGI is playing at Kennedy Center Through Feb. 12. Visit kennedy-center.org or call 202-467-4600 for tickets ($45-$120)