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'Gigi' at the Kennedy Center

Victoria Clark (Mamita), Vanessa Hudgens (Gigi), Corey Cott (Gaston), Dee Hoty (Alicia), and Cast in Gigi (photo courtesy of the Kennedy Center)

It is hard to believe that anyone could make Colette tame, but that is what the new adaptation of the musical Gigi does. Aiming for Broadway, the show is on a trial run in the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater, where we saw it on Thursday night. True, the play and then musical are based on one of Colette's less controversial stories, but the courtesan culture of Belle Epoque Paris has been almost completely written out of this revision by Heidi Thomas. Lerner and Loewe wrote a fairly good show for the film version, but the staged musical did not have the same success, possibly because of the difficulties of reproducing the film locations on a stage. This production, directed by Eric Schaeffer on a multimillion-dollar budget, goes a long way toward rectifying that shortcoming, but although it looks handsome and has a generally good cast, the show is over-stuffed with restored songs and wears on one's patience.

The show's producers are likely counting on the draw of Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical) in the title role, and she has a certain gamine appeal. Her voice, amplified but without the benefit of Auto-Tune, is light and pretty, if slightly nasal, although she comes across as far more innocent than coquettish. Corey Cott is a supercilious and off-putting Gaston, a little mannered but with clean high notes. Veteran Victoria Clark (The Light in the Piazza) was a strong presence, although somewhat vocally faded, as Mamita, the grandmother who wants to stop Gigi from falling into the courtesan's life, sparring with the caustic Dee Hoty as Alicia, who is trying to push her into it. With the edge taken off his lechery -- no more Maurice Chevalier perviness on Thank Heaven for Little Girls, which is now sung by Mamita and Alicia -- the Honoré of Howard McGillin was left plain and dull, although his duets with Clark were still charming, especially I Remember It Well. The best singing, appropriately, came from Steffanie Leigh as Liane, the singer kept by Gaston at the opening of the show and then dropped.

Other Articles:

Peter Marks, Kennedy Center’s ‘Gigi,’ starring Vanessa Hudgens, affirms its undistinguished status (Washington Post, January 30)

Nelson Pressley, ‘Midwife’ writer and rookie producer deliver new ‘Gigi’ to Kennedy Center (Washington Post, January 9)
The basic set present in all the scenes was an Art Nouveau staircase, in an iron-framed atrium recalling the Grand Palais, a nod to the references to new technologies and the World's Fair in the book. Little scenes were flown in for Mamita's and Alicia's apartments, as well as Maxim's, while lighting and props suggested the train station and the beach at Trouville. James Moore was effective leading a small group from the Kennedy Center Opera Orchestra -- three strings, three wind players, four brass players, percussion, and two keyboard players -- an unbalanced ensemble in terms of sound and cohesiveness, in spite of sometimes clumsy amplification. A small group of dancers did the heavy lifting in that department, supplemented by other cast members and choreographed smartly by Joshua Bergasse, making the Gossips at Maxim's a hoot and giving the finale of Act I, The Night They Invented Champagne, a fizzy punch. By the end of the second act, though, the bubbly had gone flat.

This production continues through February 12, at the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater.

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