From the allure of football jackets, chalkboards, High school seniors and movie musical sequels, Vanessa Hudgens has graduated from “High School Musical” to Broadway in “Gigi.”
The 1958 movie musical “Gigi” won nine Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Costume, and Best Original Song. In others words, this 21st Century Broadway production – with the same name and what it is based on – has a lot to live up to. The show is highly entertaining with Hudgens in the lead role of Gigi, but the show does not elevate itself from beyond “just entertaining.”
Watching Hudgens in “Gigi” is like witnessing a freshman student in college: she learns, grows, be a little boring, and then grows some more. Unfortunately she does not quite graduate, but lucky for her she has some college seniors showing her the ropes.
“Gigi” takes place in the world of La Belle Epoque Paris, France. In this city, fashion, glamour, love, lust and passion conquers all. In this romantic comedy, Gigi is a young woman who goes on a journey to “find her true self and her true love.”
The lives of the Parisians are filled with romance and love, but also scandal, gossip, pursuits of marriage, and money, prestige, and property are held in high regard. Hudgens’ Gigi dislikes and is rebellious towards this way of life.
When we first meet Gigi she comes out chirping lack of understanding and not wanting to pursue the same as the happy Parisians which is love, etc. By the end of Act 1 Hugdens becomes a sophomore. The role of Gigi is supposed to be memorable, fun, and charming, this one is not.
Hudgens’ Gigi is indeed finding herself as a young 16 year old lady. But she complains about “The Parisians” in song, what she is really doing is projecting her own issues onto the far more captivating Parisians who are carrying the show.
Broadway alums such as Honoré Lachaille played by Howard McGillin of Broadway’s “The Phantom of the Opera”, and sisters Mamtia (Victoria Clark) – who is Gigi’s grandmother – and Aunt Alicia (Justin Prescott) Gigi’s Aunt, gets the audience invested and entertained in Act 1.
The luxurious sets and costumes and songs sung by Honoré: “Opening,” and “Paris Is Paris Again,” makes the audience fall in love with Paris. As well as Mamita and Aunt Alicia’s musical number “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” intrigues everyone. And Mamita and Honoré nostalgic song “I Remember It Well” is funny and ever so wonderful.
Gigi could do more but fails to connect to the audience. Gigi’s soon-to-be suitor Gaston, played by another Broadway alum Corey Scott, does not do much to be likeable, he is a little annoying. However, Gigi and Gaston’s saving grace is “The Night They Invented Champagne”. That song makes you want the bubbly wine and fall in love with Paris once again.
By Act 2 the show picks up and the college seniors really take control of this slow moving production. Aunt Alicia reprises the song “Thank Heaven For Little Girls” with gusto; Mamita and Honoré makes us nostalgic once again with “I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore”; and Gaston actually makes us fall in love with him by singing “Gigi.”
As Gaston and Gigi’s love seemingly blossoms after their trip to the seaside and as the Parisian debutante grows into a young lady, the sub-plots are far more interesting and entertaining. Aunt Alicia is all about the money and the future of her niece. The brilliant musical number “The Contract” between Alicia, Mamita, and Gaston’s lawyers is captivating and it is a battle over property, money, value and love.
By the end, Gaston and Gigi learn to love and accept each other. In Act 1 the pair were like brother and sister, by Act 2 there is a fondness and a growing love, not a burning one. That is to say that Paris is the city of love not friendships.
“Gigi” the play is entertaining and it does well in transporting us back into a time that Paris is for love. And “The Gossips” sung by the Parisians in both acts are well worth it. But Hudgens’ Gigi is not the star, the rest of the cast are. The college seniors do a lot to build up the junior college student, they – the Broadway alums – have graduated and are returning teachers.
Unfortunately, Gigi needs another year or more to graduate. Or, she needs winter, spring and summer classes to graduate in a hurry.