The title character of the acclaimed 1958 movie musical Gigi (nine Oscars, including Best Picture) makes her point of view known very early on in the proceedings. “I don’t understand the Parisians,” she sings.
Gigi doesn’t understand the Parisians? Well, I don’t understand the creators of the lumpen new revival of the mid-70s Broadway musical Gigi, an adaptation of the movie, which was an adaptation of a play (starring Audrey Hepburn), which was an adaptation of work by Colette about the education of a would-be courtesan in Belle Epoque France. They’ve gone over the whole shebang with a sanitizing wipe.
Perhaps you didn’t read the novella. Perhaps you didn’t see the movie. Leslie Caron played the title role, a gawky 15-year-old being educated in the family “business” by her worldly aunt and protective grandmother. Louis Jourdan co-starred as Gaston, a jaded 30-something heir to a sugar fortune and Gigi’s friend turned suitor. Maurice Chevalier was Gaston’s Uncle Honore, a boulevardier without peer.
Sordid? A bit, and wonderfully so. But in some misguided attempt at political correctness, Heidi Thomas, who adapted Alan Jay Lerner’s screenplay, has aged Gigi (Vanessa Hudgens) by three years, and has removed more than a decade from Gaston (the bland Corey Cott) When, in the second act, Gigi and Gaston go to Maxim’s, they look like a couple of high school kids stopping off for a bite after the prom. But the supposed ewww factor – young girl, much older guy – that this adjustment was meant to eliminate hasn’t been eliminated at all, just placed elsewhere. Really, isn’t it creepy that Gaston has a mistress who seems almost old enough to be his maman?
Benightedness is the guiding principle of this production. “Thank Heaven for Little Girls,” sung by the roguish Honore in the movie, has been handed off to Aunt Alicia (Dee Hoty) and Grandmama (Victoria Clark), lest someone misinterpret a salute to youth as the salacious anthem of a pedophile. And because Thomas re-wrote Gaston’s character – in this version he isn’t filled with ennui at all – it makes no sense that he sing “It’s a Bore.” But sing it he does.
Hudgens is an acceptable singer and dancer, but there’s an emotional void where her Gigi should be. The show’s saving graces are the indispensable Hoty and Clark and the score. It may not be top-drawer Lerner and Loewe, but even their second best, as in the haunting title song – “Oh, Gigi, while you were trembling on the brink/ Was I out yonder somewhere blinking at a star?/ Oh, Gigi, was I standing up close or back too far?” – is magnifique.