Book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner
Music by Frederick Loewe
Adapted by Heidi Thomas
Directed by Eric Schaeffer
Although it’s been over fifty years since it broke records at the Oscars, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Leowe’s sophisticated, buoyant take on Belle Epoque manners doesn’t feel the least bit dated. Thanks to the enduring wit and solidity of the songs and Heidi Thomas’s brisk new book, the show feels right at home among the more recently- minted offerings of an unusually colorful Broadway season.
The eponymous heroine (Vanessa Hudgens) is a provincial adolescent, forced by the death of her parents to relocate to bustling Paris. Though she is well cared for by her homespun grandmother (Victoria Clark), Gigi has a tough time adjusting to the big city. Parisians talk endlessly of love and are deeply committed to social posturing, neither of which interests Gigi. Her independent spirit meets with sharp rebukes from her jewelry-obsessed Aunt Alicia (Dee Hoty), whose intention is to groom Gigi for a life as a courtesan. Family acquaintance Gaston (Corey Cott), heir to a large sugar fortune, is more cosmopolitan. Yet he, too, fails to see the relevance of l’amour in a world where advancements in science and engineering are much more exciting. Gaston isn’t quite sure what he wants, but he does know it isn’t what his womanizing uncle Honoré (Howard McGillin) his rapacious mistress Liane (Steffanie Leigh), have in mind for him. Of course, both ingénues succumb to thrill of romance eventually. But finding their own brand of happiness means ducking reporters and swimming against the social current- a challenging, if exhilarating, enterprise.
Hudgens brings a contemporary, pop sensibility to her phrasing and delivery. It doesn’t always suit the material, but her magnetic stage presence and unaffected winsomeness make her ideal for the part nonetheless. Her transformation from coltish gamine to poised society lady is neatly mirrored by Cott, who brings spontaneity and heart, as well as vocal dexterity, to his portrayal of Gaston. Naturally, some of the show’s best songs are written for the supporting characters. McGillin and Clark share a piquant chemistry as the older-and-wiser couple that might have been. Doty’s glittering, formidable Alicia and Leigh’s entitled Liane feel simultaneously true to he period and perennially modern (throw in a little Botox and they could pass for the one percenters of today).
As in the film version, Paris itself is one of the stars. Designer Catherine Zuber (costumes), Derek McLane (sets) and Natasha Katz (lighting), have clearly studied the work of Toulouse-Lautrec and Jules Cheret, and the show’s opulent parade of rich colors and sinuous shapes feels like an Art Nouveau lithograph come to life. The dance numbers, choreographed by Joshua Bergasse, are both dazzling to the eye and ingeniously comic. The careening tipplers of “The Night They Invented Champagne” and the vulture-like posturing of “The Gossips” are particularly inventive. Director Eric Schaeffer keeps the story moving at a tempo that is consistently lively, but never rushed.
GIGI continues in an open run at the Neil Simon Theatre, 250 West 52nd Street
New York, New York. Tickets:(877) 250-2929.