Well I managed to catch the show on it’s next to last day in town, but fear not, if you’re a fan of the movie and music this was merely the out of town try-out and GiGi is headed for a revival on the Great White Way, starting mid March.
So lets start with the good stuff and we’ll work our way down to Vanessa Hudgens; well, that was mean right off the bat, sorry. I was excited when I heard of the revival and then less so when I heard the casting of the lead, I am not a fan of stunt casting but being a firm believer in taking chances (on theater) I decided to give the show a whirl. I am always willing to be pleasantly surprised.
The show is a frothy, frivolous, fun slice of La Belle Époque en Paris. Don’t look too far below the surface or the border line pedophilia and grooming your granddaughter to be whore, albeit a refined and high class one, might make you a little queasy. And, boy were there were a lot of mothers with their little girls at the show. But it’s Paris! at the turn of the century, that’s just the way things were! My understanding is that the book has been reworked since the shows original (and unsuccessful) run on Broadway and I did notice a distinct effort to ameliorate the viewpoint of beautiful women merely as disposable objects of entertainment for men of wealth. I liked taking the iconic “Thank Heaven for Little Girls,” originally charmingly and kind of creepily warbled by Maurice Chevalier and making it a duet between Mamita and Aunt Alicia; it was a nice point/counterpoint of two women’s philosophies. Mamita in her gentile but honorable poverty and Aunt Alicia in her grand accommodations, yet both secure in their independence even if by different means.
Speaking of these two ladies, Victoria Clark as Mamita and Dee Hoty as Aunt Alicia, are the best part of this show, easily. I’m going out on a limb, especially since I haven’t seen ANY of the recent contenders and say Ms. Clark is going to get herself a Tony nod. She grounds that show and gives it heart while the rest of the cast twirls and glitters around her. She is the real Paris, beneath the frivolity and froth. She was excellent, as one would expect, and she and Dee Hoty seemed to be having much fun on that stage. Ms. Hoty’s Aunt Alicia can throw some very elegant shade, it was most entertaining to watch.
That I’m halfway thought the post and haven’t mentioned GiGi yet should be telling, there I go being mean again! Not that Ms. Hudgens was bad. Actually, GiGi as a young naive girl doesn’t really have a great deal of depth for an actress to portray, her character is all surface. For the first 3/4 of the show Ms. Hudgens does fine playing the bubbly, giggly, not a care in the world girl, it suits her relatively well. But when it comes for her to transform to the grown woman ready to make grown decisions it starts to falter a bit. One issue might be the transition is too abrupt. I would have gotten rid, or seriously cut down the “contract” negotiations song (which was supposed to be funny but wasn’t) and done some great song and dance medley of GiGi being “trained,” clothes, walking, talking balancing things on her head to segue in to grown and ready to be a
whore self supporting GiGi. Granted, it probably did not help that poor Ms. Hudgens had to share most of her stage time with Ms.s Clark and Hoty, its is easy for a young actress to seem diminished in the presence these two talented ladies.
It also probably did not help that there is no discernible scrap of chemistry between GiGi and her leading man, played by Corey Cott, at least not from my seat in the balcony. I think they cast Gaston as too young; because in this day and age it’s far more palatable if an 18 year old girl is sold to a 25 year old man instead of a 35 year old man right? Mr. Cott is charming but Gaston is supposed to be a sophisticated world weary man in the grips of ennui, and GiGi is his escape form that. The relationship did not seem to evolve in any organic way from an avuncular relationship to a romantic one. (It really sounds wrong when you write it like that doesn’t it, an avuncular relation ship should never become a romantic one, right?)
I’ll wrap up with the set and costume design which were beautiful. The sets evoked the Eiffel Tower and the beautiful Art Deco wrought iron detailing and architecture of the time and place. It was unmistakably Paris. The only off note in the costuming, oddly enough, were GiGi’s costumes. They’ve quite clearly used the movie as the inspiration for her costumes but they looked cheap; from the 2nd row of the balcony they looked cheap. Even the penultimate gown she wears to Maximes, looked shiny and wrinkly and like they were trying to use the feather boa to hide it. It just struck me as odd; all the other costuming was beautiful and rich looking and it really stood out. Weird.
GiGi opens at the Neil Simon Theater, March 19.