‘Gigi’ Theater Review: Vanessa Hudgens Turns a French Girl into a Very Pretty Woman

Refashioned for the “High School Musical” generation, “Gigi” sports a heroine who’s spunkier than a barrel of Disney princesses

When I saw the movie “Gigi” in 1958, the story of a courtesan-in-training went right over my young head. Oddly enough, it almost went right over my head again when I recently saw the new Broadway revival of the Lerner and Loewe musical, which opened Wednesday at the Neil Simon Theatre in New York.

Refashioned for the “High School Musical” generation, “Gigi” has been scrubbed and polished so that its heroine is now sassy, headstrong, and spunkier than a barrel of Disney princesses. The one thing she’s not is French, and, of course, there’s nothing terribly risqué or even controversial about her situation anymore. As Gigi, Vanessa Hudgens sings and moves well and looks stunning, and if ever they get around to turning “Pretty Woman” into a Broadway musical, she won’t have to change a thing.

“Gigi” has been called “My Fair Lady” Lite because it doesn’t feature stirring arias like “I Could Have Danced All Night” or “On the Street Where You Live.” True, but the score is solid enough, and its “I Remember It Well” replicates the simple, wistful melancholy of “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.” This revival is also blessed with a Gaston (Corey Cott) whose fine tenor  turns the title song, “Gigi,” into a real showstopper.

The greater problem with “Gigi” is that, unlike Henry Higgins’s elocution lessons for Eliza Doolittle, the lessons Gigi receives from her Aunt Alicia (Dee Hoty) on serving tea and eating crustaceans don’t lead to a transformation in her character. Indeed, they’re as tedious for us to watch as Gigi claims they are. In fact, it’s a full-length lace dress (by Catherine Zuber) that turns Gigi into a woman, which is a little like giving Cecil Beaton all the credit for Eliza’s success at the Embassy Ball.

In the movie “Gigi,” Aunt Alicia and Gigi’s grandmother Mamita (Victoria Clark) join hands to turn the young girl into a courtesan. In this revival, Grandma has lots of modern moral qualms, which, of course, only works to soften Gigi’s eventual break from the jaded adults around here. That Gigi holds out for marriage and the greater security it provides, well, that’s the real story of a modern material girl. Despite presenting such a newly ambivalent character, Clark emerges as the only actor on stage who evokes turn-of-the-century Paris.

While Cott has a great singing voice, his tenor turns squealy when he shows much emotion, and at times he comes off more petulant than Gigi herself. Since it involves such a small directorial touch, couldn’t Eric Schaeffer have modulated the upper reaches of Cott’s speaking voice? And couldn’t Hudgens’s all-American rambunctiousness been dialed back a bit? Nothing, however, could save Howard McGillin’s Honore Lachaille (the Maurice Chevalier role). Only Vincent Price ever got away with playing a roue this prissy.

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