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Theatre Review (LA): Gigi by Lerner and Loewe, Presented by Reprise

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In 1945 the author Colette introduced a character named Gigi, whose story was adapted as a non-musical film in 1948. Broadway first saw the character of Gigi, again as a non-musical, in 1951. In 1958 the great writing team of Lerner and Loewe took the play and changed it to a beautiful and graceful film that went on to win nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

In an attempt to have lightning strike twice, the film was transformed into a stage piece that did not recreate the success of its predecessors. It ran only 103 performances but managed to get a Tony Award for Best Score. The stage version was revived in London, with some changes made, including different songs. The current Reprise production is a synthesis concocted by the talented director David Lee. Having seen the show earlier in the year in a civic opera production in San Diego, I can say that this new version is an improvement, much more coherent and much funnier.

It remains a delight to hear the marvelous score, with such songs as “The Night they Invented Champagne,” “I Remember It Well,” “Thank Heaven for Little Girls,” and “I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore.” It’s memorable music that displays the genius of Lerner and Loewe for capturing a different time and place (My Fair Lady, Brigadoon) in pleasing and hummable music. However, despite the efforts of the talented set designer, Tom Buderwitz, you can’t help but miss Paris and all its trimmings. If you compare it to the movie it is a disappointment.

To be fair, Reprise’s mission is to revive neglected musicals or musicals that haven’t been done in awhile, with the emphasis on talent not scenery. Talent they have. Gigi was played by a delightful actress, Lisa O’Hare, who played Eliza Doolittle in the recent production of My Fair Lady at the Ahmanson. Though perhaps a bit too old for the role—Gigi is a teen—Ms. O’Hare captured her innocence and grace, and sings the songs beautifully. Yet the other women in the show almost stole it from her. Millicent Martin was wonderful as Mamita and Susan Denaker made a formidable Aunt Alicia.

William Atherton made the role of Honore, played by Maurice Chevalier in the movie, his own and was delightful in his light touch. Matt Cavenaugh, really too young for the role (although that may have been a choice), played Gaston, Gigi’s snobby suitor. Mr. Cavenaugh has a strange way of talking, very sing-song, and his singing has a lot of vibrato. Nevertheless he is charming as Gaston. Then there is the irrepressible Jason Graae who, much to the audience’s enjoyment, played several roles with his typical humor. Steve Orish is the Musical Director and leads the 20-piece orchestra through this magnificent score. Gigi played at the Freud Theatre at U.C.L.A. from Feb 15 through 27.

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