When I was a child, I saw Gigi, the straight play by Anita Loos, and I loved it. It was full of color and excitement, this story of a young girl being groomed to be a Parisian courtesan. I remember bejeweled hair ornaments, hair piled high on one's head, bright gems and fancy brocade dresses. When the 1958 movie musical came out, it was a big hit. Directed by Vincente Minnelli (father of Liza), the film starred Leslie Caron, Maurice Chevalier, Louis Jourdan and Hermione Gingold. It went on to win many Oscars: notably for Best Adapted Screenplay (by Alan Jay Lerner of My Fair Lady fame), Best Costume Design (Cecil Beaton), Best Director, Best Picture, Best Score (Andre Previn) and Best Song (Lerner and Loewe). Some of those memorable songs include "Thank Heaven for Little Girls," "Gigi," "The Night They Invented Champagne" and "I Remember It Well."
Gigi opened Friday night at Spokane Civic Theatre, and as I watched, I kept thinking to myself, "Why isn't it as thrilling as it was years ago?" The Civic's production is a quality show, but it somehow fails to make an effective transition to our 21st century sensibilities. This bit of fluff lacks the verve, the spectacular ambience of Paris and the fun of a bygone era. In short, it has not survived the leap into modern times. It is out of sync with what we consider to be & agrave; la mode.
That said, I want to mention several noteworthy aspects of the present production, not the least of which is the Herculean effort by the talented Melody Deatherage, who came to the rescue of director Kathie Doyle-Lipe, after a cast member ended up in the hospital Tuesday night and was unable to stay with the show. Ms. Deatherage took over the role of the elegant Aunt Alicia. She did a superb job, and I sincerely hope she stays with the production for the run. She was simply marvelous. And combined with the talents of Jean Hardie as Gigi's grandmother, well, the two are an unbeatable combination.
The other bright spots in the show include Samuel Pettit as Gaston and Briane Jordan as Gigi. These two talented young performers are absolutely delightful. Unfortunately, the orchestra was too loud during some of their musical numbers; consequently, we also missed several key moments of dialogue as well. A few members of the ensemble also deserve credit for adding necessary spice throughout the evening: Joe Sullivan, Cara Cubberley, Amy Maher, Rohan Flinn, JJ Renz and Savannah Forno.
Sad to say, television has really ruined old musicals for us in the sense that an hour-and-a-half is trop long for us to sit anymore. We are conditioned to segments of an hour; it is a chore for folks with various aches and pains, and to those adventuresome folks who had dinner out beforehand with wine or coffee, to last that long. Several people had to trot off to the bathroom during that very long Act One, so typical of musicals of this period. This Act One would have been better served with some judicious cuts of the long production numbers. The crowd scenes often did not work, and even the can-can in the finale fell flat.
Perhaps if Patrick Sweet, who plays Honore (the role Maurice Chevalier played in the movie), had been himself, rather than trying to mimic Chevalier, those scenes would have played better, but the action always came to a screeching halt when he launched into one of his monologues. In other scenes, however, he was fun, especially with Jean Hardie in "I Remember It Well." This scene was the highlight of the evening.
In a movie where you have characters of various nationalities, it is totally appropriate for them to use their native tongue; hence the movie was dotted with accents. However, I admit that one of my pet peeves is having people using accents in a play where none are needed. Here we are, in Paris; everyone is French, everyone is Parisian; no refugees from Marseilles. Everyone speaks la langue fran & ccedil;aise. So why does everyone have a French accent? If they were all consistent, it might have worked, but alas, some had no accent at all. Sacre bleu!
Kudos to the costume designer, Dee Finan, who along with her assistants, Susan Berger and Jodi Davis, did a fantastic job. They were able to provide some of the brilliant color and created a new wardrobe in three days for Ms. Deatherage, in addition to providing the many costumes called for in such a large musical production.
Technically, this show is a bear; that is to say, there are many set changes, side stages, pieces that move in and out, curtains that close and open and furniture that is moved endlessly. The technical crew backstage did an amazing job of making sure everything was in place at the right time.
All in all, for a pleasant evening out of light entertainment and a glimpse into the Parisian fin de siecle, you should check out Gigi.