New York City Theater
Neil Simon Theater
At least one can hum the overture, even remember the lyrics. “Gigi,” the unnecessary stage version of the beloved film, has that memorable score by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe going for it.
Listen to the title tune, to “Thank Heaven for Little Girls,” here removed from any taint of pedophilia by having it sung, not by the skirt-chasing Honoré, but by Gigi’s grandmother Mamita and Aunt Alicia. Or “The Night They Invented Champagne,” ”I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore,” “Say a Prayer.”
If it sounds like we’re punting, so be it. This is not exactly the film since adaptor Heidi Thomas has made changes from it and the original novel by Colette. Yet, they’re only cosmetic. Yes, the songs are as ingratiating as ever. Yes, many of the performances are splendid. Yes, the darn thing looks elegant enough, especially Catherine Zuber’s exquisite costumes and except for a ubiquitous double staircase present in every scene, even at a beach resort.
But the show has not been seriously altered or re-thought for the stage, beyond making Gaston, Gigi’s suitor, a bit younger, planting the information that he and Gigi were childhood friends. Somehow, that blunts the plot’s point of rambunctious, adolescent Gigi’s being groomed for the life of a courtesan. How come Gaston grew up so much faster? Was she held back?
Nor does Gigi seem invested in her future. Sure, she goes along with deportment and seduction lessons from her ambitious aunt (a delicious Dee Hoty), whose acquisitive philosophy is, “Men are temporary; jewels are for life.” But lacking are unexpected, unsought-for feelings. Everything here is so sunny, recalled are those bright, Technicolored M-G-M musicals that starred Esther Williams.
Of little help are Joshua Bergasse’s repetitive choreography (he did a much better job with “On the Town”) and Eric Schaeffer’s surface-grazing direction. Significantly, the one showstopper, the one time audience and material and performer mesh is with the title song, sung with plaintive yearning and discovery by Corey Cott as Gaston. Cott also invests the moment in the beach scene when he re-evaluates his relationship with Gigi, seeing her for the first time as a possible partner, with a flicker of regret for the dissolute life he’s been leading.
After all, it’s a story not just about a young girl’s growing up, but of a society’s. Progress is essential, the world turns, though at a price.
As Gigi, Vanessa Hudgens is bouncy and ingratiating without in the least suggesting an inner fire. Victoria Clark gives a fine performance as the concerned, loving Mamita, while Howard McGillin is staunch as roué Honoré. But it’s Cott’s conflicted Gaston and Hoty’s laser-sharp Aunt Alicia who most fully embody Colette’s vision of youth and age, love and money. What a pair they would make.
--David A. Rosenberg
April 24, 2015