Broadway Review: ‘Gigi’ Starring Vanessa Hudgens

Gigi review Vanessa Hudgens Broadway
Margot Schulman

Prudish American audiences can relax. There’s nothing to offend their tender sensibilities in this antiseptic version of “Gigi,” Lerner and Loewe’s enchanting 1958 film musical about a young girl being groomed as a courtesan in Belle Epoque Paris. The racy suggestion (in the original Colette novella) that the clever girl might be complicit in her own education had already been expunged in previous stage and film versions. But Heidi Thomas’ adaptation delivers the coup de grace by aging 15-year-old Gigi up to a mature 18 and by casting Little-Miss-Perky Vanessa Hudgens in the sanitized role.

Rather than empowering Gigi, putting more years on her makes this young adult seem dimwitted instead of innocently naive. In the same blundering way, drastically dropping the age of her jaded older suitor incongruously forces the boyish Corey Cott (“Newsies”) into the unconvincing guise of that sophisticated boulevardier Gaston Lachaille. Now that the kids are perfectly matched, there’s no longer any intergenerational sexual tension between the principals. Further distorting the characters’ original relationship, Hudgens (“High School Musical”) has the clarion voice and aggressive delivery of an unabashed Broadway belter, which gives Gigi vocal dominance over Gaston’s delicately voiced tenor.

A classy design team restores some of the show’s lost magic with dreamy sets and gorgeous costumes that capture the enduring romance of Paris at the turn of the century — a city newly ablaze in lights and full of promise. But the dumbed-down book and hard-bitten direction keep dragging the show away from that audacious era and back to our own thin-skinned age.

To be sure, there are numbers in which the young leads, as Parisian as hot dogs and beer, overcome the awkwardness of their situation. Hudgens has her moment in “The Night They Invented Champagne,” closing the first act with a rousing performance in a number that legitimately suits her hard-driving style. Choreographer Joshua Bergasse also cuts loose with some high-kicking, skirt-swirling moves for the girls in this number, although the boys are more giddy chorus cuties than pleasure-loving men-about-town.

Cott does a really nice job on the title song in act two, combining his crystalline voice with the persuasive delivery of a young man who has just seen the light of love. But more often than not, the principals are just as overzealous about selling the songs as they are about over-enunciating every last one of their “T’s,” “D’s” and “ing’s.”

The more experienced members of the company seem to have ignored that damaging directive from their dialect coach, who also hasn’t managed to give anyone a passable French accent. But no one except Victoria Clark (bless her soul) completely evades helmer Eric Schaeffer’s instructions to knock themselves out on every speech and every song. Clark (a much-valued Broadway stalwart, most recently in “Cinderella”) plays Gigi’s grandmother, Mamita, a once famous courtesan who can still turn the head of an old lover. And in her heartfelt rendering of “Say a Prayer,” she beautifully demonstrates how emotionally devastating a quietly sincere moment can be.

But sincerity isn’t something you can pin on even the most accomplished members of the company. Even the divine Dee Hoty goes over the top on Mamita’s sister, Aunt Alicia, the still glamorous courtesan (especially in those luscious Catherine Zuber gowns) who is training Gigi in the soft arts. And although Howard McGillin (who holds the Broadway record for the longest run in the title role of “The Phantom of the Opera”) seems perfectly cast as the suave Honore Lachaille, he’s not quite there on “I Remember It Well,” the wistful song that the aging roué shares with Mamita, his long-ago lover.

Maybe he’s just smarting from being denied the chance to sing “Thank Heaven for Little Girls,” the definitive theme song of nostalgic old bon vivants when it was sung by Maurice Chevalier in the movie. In some foolish attempt to spare modern-day women from feeling demeaned by the values of 1900s Parisians (and ignoring the fact that Colette wrote the novella from her own experiences), the creatives have made the ludicrous choice of assigning the song to Mamita and Aunt Alicia, which makes them seem like a couple of madams sizing up the next crop of courtesans.

Who hasn’t lost their minds in this ill-conceived adaptation? The designers, for sure, have held their own. The sweeping lines of Derek McLane’s ornamental art-nouveau sets not only reference the distinctive iron tracery of the Eiffel Tower and Paris’s Metro entrances and streetlamps, but also subtly allude to the voluptuous curves of the female body admired in that era. Those sensual lines repeat themselves in the hourglass silhouettes of Zuber’s beautifully constructed costumes. Even Natasha Katz’s boldly colorful lighting scheme seems designed to heighten the depth and dimension of the physical forms.

But if the physical look of the show suggests Paris — and specifically, the Paris of Colette’s louche crowd — whenever someone opens his mouth, we’re dragged back to America, where nice people don’t do naughty things.

gigi-review-vanessa-hudgens-broadway

Broadway Review: 'Gigi' Starring Vanessa Hudgens

Neil Simon Theater; 1384 seats; $162 top. Opened April 8, 2015. Reviewed April 6. Running time: 2 HOURS, 30 MIN.

Production

A Jenna Segal, Segal NYC Prods., Ilya Mikhailovic Prods., Eion & Mia Hu, Darren P. Deverna/Jeremiah J. Harris, Merrie L. Davis, Martin Markinson, Lawrence S. Toppall/Riki Kane Larimer/Pat Flicker Addiss, Marsi & Eric Gardiner/Maggie Gold Seelig & Jonathan Seelig of a musical in two acts with book & lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe, adapted by Heidi Thomas from the novel by Colette.

Creative

Directed by Eric Schaeffer. Choreographed by Joshua Bergasse. Sets, Derek McLane; costumes, Catherine Zuber; lighting, Natasha Katz; sound, Kai Harada; wigs & hair, David Brian Brown; dialect coach, Ben Furey; orchestrations, August Eriksmoen; music direction, Greg Jarrett; music arrangements, Matt Aument; music supervision, James Moore; production stage manager, Bonnie Panson.

Cast

Victoria Clark, Corey Cott, Dee Hoty, Howard McGillin, Vanessa Hudgens, Stephanie Leigh.

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  1. Richard Michaelson says:

    And why for heaven’s sake are American TV hosts and even Vanessa referring to her character as GEE GEE when the correct French pronunciation uses the soft “j” as in je t’aime. Have the producers of this failed production never ever hear the inimitable Louis Jordan singing the title song? – what theatrical morons you are!!!!

  2. robthom says:

    Wasn’t that a terrible movie with jlo?

    Now its a terrible broadway production with jhudge?

  3. Merry says:

    What a spot on review. I looked forward to seeing this show, Lerner and Lowes wonderful score and memories of people with style and class acting out this story. This production is pathetic, the voices are weak, the decision to have two women sing Thank Heaven for Little Girls is an insult to the composers. They should have changed the setting to America if they weren’t going to utilize French accents, it was like watching a very disjointed show with amateur actors. It’s so disappointing that there are so few realty good Broadway singers and that so many of the new directors feel it’s necessary change the flavor of classic shows. We felt like we were watching a bad Disney movie production filled with Caricatures of what once were appealing characters. Save your money and skip this show.

  4. r says:

    So, have a nice bunch of cocktails with your lunch before you see this show and c’est la vie!

  5. Lisa Joseph says:

    I completely agree with your review. You hit every negative point that I had. The plot/casting changes made removed the point of the story, and the diction in particular, drove me crazy. Every time Vanessa Hudgens sang the line “I don’t understand the Parisens” in her New York accent, I physically cringed. Disappointing.

  6. Matt says:

    I saw the show and I have to say that I thought it was a great show. It wasn’t as good as Wicked or Kinky Boots but it was a very high energy show. Vanessa Hudgens was extremely poised and she was believable. Yes they don’t have any French accents but that is being nit picky if you ask me because the dance numbers are phenomenal and Corey Cott and the rest of the cast were amazing. Don’t get me wrong now Dee Hoty and Victoria Clark stole the show but Hudgens really suprised me on how good she was. Did she over enunciate her words sometimes? Yes but that can be fixed very easily and plus I would rather have someone over enunciate than under enunciated. Was she totally believable at all times? No not all the time. Sometimes she was a little to over the top but I think the critics are looking for a reason to hate this show and really there reasons are not good ones.

  7. Sue Karr says:

    So, to paraphrase: Each generation gets the “Gigi” it deserves. Sounds perfectly dreadful. Condolences to Mr. McGillan and Ms. Hoty.

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