Catherine Zuber’s costumes are gorgeous and Derek McLane’s impressionistic sets colorfully portray Paris and its levels of society, but unfortunately they are the highlights of director Eric Schaeffer’s anemic revival of Gigi at the Neil Simon Theatre.
While stunning to look at, the show suffers most from its lack of a strong lead. In her Broadway debut, Vanessa Hudgens (of “High School Musical” fame) makes the title character seem like a squirmy brat rather than an effervescent young girl on the brink of womanhood at the turn of the 20th century.
In the canon of musical theatre, Gigi is one of the lightweights. My friend Mary rightly labeled it “a second-hand My Fair Lady,” a good comparison because like that great musical, it has a book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe, with a plot hinging on transforming a spirited young girl into a cultured woman of the world. In the case of Gigi, the makeover is to mold her into a graceful woman who will snag a rich man and enter into a lucrative contract to be his mistress.
But Gigi’s songs lack the power of My Fair Lady’s. "Thank Heaven for Little Girls," "I Remember It Well," "The Night They Invented Champagne" and the title song, “Gigi”, (which won an Oscar for the 1958 movie version), are pleasant, but they pale in comparison to “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “On the Street Where You Live,” “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face,” and even “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” and “Get Me to the Church on Time.”
Still, with a stronger cast, Gigi would make for a lighthearted evening of theatre. It’s been successful before. As a straight play, adapted by Anita Loos from the 1944 novella by French author Colette, it introduced Audrey Hepburn to the New York stage in 1961. Seven years later it was made into a movie starring Leslie Caron that won nine Oscars, including Best Picture. It was presented as a musical on Broadway in 1973, winning a Tony for Best Musical Score, but critics were not impressed and that version flopped.
This new adaptation of Gigi features a book by Heidi Thomas.
The exceptions to the bland cast are Victoria Clark as the grandmother who has raised Gigi and Dee Hoty as the great aunt who is striving to school her niece in sophistication — “insinuate yourself into the chair,” she says as Gigi prepares to plop into it — and the important things in life — “men are temporary, jewels are for life.”
Joshua Bergasse’s choreography is, for the most part, mechanical. The number “Paris is Paris Again” should be joy-filled, but its only spark is from the costumes. Similarly, “The Night They Invented Champagne” needs more fizz.
If you are feeling the urge to reconnect with Gigi, get the movie and skip this revival.