Oh, Gigi. I’m not sure there’s enough champagne in all of France to keep me buzzed through two-and-a-half hours of your romping through Paris and a side trip to Trouville. That’s not to be said a relatively jovial evening can’t be had in your company, but it’s more like sipping from a cup of sparkling cider than a bottle of Veuve Clicquot.
The latest version of Gigi, which opened tonight at the Neil Simon Theatre, is a revival of the 1973 Lerner and Loewe musical, based on the 1958 Academy Award-winning film, based on the 1945 novel by Colette. You get the picture. Young Gigi (a charming Vanessa Hudgens of Disney’s High School Musical franchise) comes of age in the world of Belle Époque Paris—beautifully captured in a soaring scenic design by Derek McLane. She is under the loving watch of her grandmother Mamita (Victoria Clark) and worldly aunt Alicia (Dee Hoty). The elders, who have very different takes on what it means to be a woman, prepare young Gigi for society life as she falls under the spell of a well-appointed suitor, Gaston Lachaille (Corey Cott). Throw into the mix Honoré Lachaille (Howard McGillin), whose past indiscretions come back to haunt him as he revisits his decades-old feelings for Mamita, and you’ve got a recipe for a perfectly fine—if not totally memorable—evening of theater.
Gigi’s extraordinary film success (it won nine Oscars) might be attributed to the Golden Age of Hollywood or the keen eye of its director, Vincente Minnelli. Unfortunately, we’re living in different times and the book, adapted by Heidi Thomas, doesn’t resonate in today’s world, where songs like “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” and “The Contract” either feel creepy or stale. Director Eric Schaeffer squeezes every last bit of emotional gravitas out of the cast, sometimes pushing them to forced highs and lows, particularly in the case of Cott, who writhes through the show’s title number in the second act. Stilted material aside (including a score that never comes close to the writing team’s hits that include My Fair Lady, Camelot, and Brigadoon), there is much to find entertaining in the production, thanks mostly to the grounded and emotionally resonant performances by Clark and Hoty.
Clark, who’s into the double digits when it comes to Broadway credits, is simply divine. At times maternal and at others flirtatious, her clear-toned soprano is as strong as ever and she plays the material as if her life depended on it. Hoty, tasked with a role that teeters on nemesis but ultimately comes from a place of love and protection, is just as brilliant, delivering dead pan humor and sweeping gesticulations in decadent costumes by Catherine Zuber.
And then, of course, there’s Gigi herself. Hudgens takes on a role immortalized by Leslie Caron but manages to put her own stamp on it. She is ebullient and delightful. Youthful and seductive. She is a girl on the brink of womanhood… a spring flower about to blossom. But perhaps director Schaeffer and choreographer Joshua Bergasse have over-watered the pot, leaving very little room for physical spontaneity, which the character (and actress) seems so desperate to embrace.
Will audiences respond to this nostalgic look at what it was like to come into womanhood amid turn-of-the-century France? With plenty of joie de vivre and not much else, only time will tell.
The Neil Simon Theatre
250 West 52nd Street