When it was announced that Gigi would be returning to Broadway, I was intrigued. I had semi-fond memories of seeing the original 1958 musical film, which features beautiful Parisian scenes, but also has a troubling plot, with a girl being molded into courtesan for a much older man. It also has one of the creepiest songs known to musical theatre:
When it was also announced that Vanessa Hudgens would take on the titular role, I was even more intrigued. I honestly haven’t seen her in much since her High School Musical days, other than her annual pilgrimage to Coachella, the music festival of fringe-laden clothes and hair feathers. I wondered how this production would fare, and whether Hudgens actually had the chops to pull it off.
Gigi takes place in Paris at the beginning of the 20th century. While romance is alive in the city of love, marriage is not, and wealthy men and their beautiful mistresses are often the talk of the town. Gigi (Hudgens) belongs to a family of courtesans, and receives lessons from her Aunt Alicia (Dee Hoty). Gigi’s grandmother Mamita (Victoria Clarkson) wants Gigi to enjoy being a child as long as possible, insisting that she remain innocent. But when close friend of the family Gaston (Corey Cott) cuts ties with his latest mistress, Aunt Alicia sees an opportunity for Gigi that even Mamita can no longer ignore. When Gigi comes into her own, she has to decide whether becoming Gaston’s mistress is enough for her happiness.
Despite my misgivings, Gigi is an entertaining night at the theatre. The performances are all nuanced and engaging, from Dee Hoty’s queenly Aunt Alicia to Victoria Clarkson’s sweet Mamita. I was also charmed by Corey Cott as Gaston, and much preferred his younger man-about-town version of the character. It helped make his pairing with young Gigi more palatable and less like a musical redux of Lolita. Vanessa Hudgens did a fine job as Gigi, capturing the character’s gamine essence with energy and charm. (Even better, she sings and dances the part as well as a regular stage actress.) My one quibble with her performance was her diction: it’s as if she was given a note to enunciate her lines, resulting in every “t” to be overemphasized. Other than her “t” issue, Vanessa Hudgens was a wonderful Gigi, and she can definitely hold her own on a Broadway stage.
While the revival Gigi works overall, I wonder who the intended audience is. Of course, the ideal answer for Broadway is everyone, but that doesn’t quite work for this production. General audience members and musical theatre lovers may not be wowed by Gigi, as its story-line and score tread a well-worn path made by a more beloved musical by Gigi creators Lerner and Loewe. The New York Times review of the original film said it best, when it called Gigi “a musical film that bears such a basic resemblance to My Fair Lady that the authors may want to sue themselves.” Even fans of the original Gigi film may not be pleased with a former Newsie playing Gaston, a character who is supposed to be pushing forty. Nor would they enjoy a former Disney starlet who still reads more as a contemporary American than a European girl at the turn of the 20th century. And while fans of Vanessa Hudgens will delight at seeing her take a starring turn on a Broadway stage, I wonder if they will be as entranced by the older source material. One thing is certain though: Vanessa Hudgens has much more to offer as a performer, and I look forward to seeing what other things she could do.
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