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Theatre Review (San Diego): Gigi by Lerner and Loewe at the Birch Theatre in North Beach

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This past fall I tried to spread out my coverage and awareness of the vast riches of San Diego, and discovered there was life beyond the Old Globe and La Jolla Playhouse. These other venues included the Starlight Bowl, the Cygnet Theatre, the Moonlight Amphitheatre, the San Diego Repertory, and a refurbished theatre, the Lyric at the Birch. The Lyric is celebrating 32 years of bringing “affordable opera and musical theatre productions to San Diego.” I have been going to San Diego for years and was not aware of this group. They perform operas and musicals (in English) using the finest young local talent, with a full orchestra and chorus. I managed to catch their lovely production of Gigi back in October.

The performances of Gigi were conducted and directed by Leon Natker. The 24-piece orchestra sounded wonderful and Maestro Natker (who will play Tevye later in the season) kept things moving at a crisp pace. The simple but effective scenic design was by J. Sherwood Montgomery, with lights by Elvira Perez, and costumes, makeup, and hair by Pam Stompoly-Ericson with costumes from The Theatre Company. The choreography was created by Shirley Giltner.

Gigi was by the famous team of Lerner and Loewe and actually was the last time they worked together. The musical is based on a novel and 1958 hit movie musical of the same name. The beloved movie starred Maurice Chevalier, Hermione Gingold, and newcomer Leslie Caron, and earned nine Academy Awards including Best Picture. Trying to cash in on the film’s success, the musical was transformed into a vehicle for the stage; Gigi ran a disappointing 103 performances but did win a Tony Award for Best Score. The score is lovely and has such songs as “Thank Heaven For Little Girls,” “The Night They Invented Champagne,” “I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore,” “Paris is Paris Again,” and “I Remember It Well.”

The cast at the Lyric ran the gamut from totally professional to your basic community theatre performer. Every town should have a thriving community theatre; not everyone can work in the professional theatre. Laura Bueno was a lovely Gigi, capturing the elfin girl who grows into a beautiful young lady. J. Sherwood Montgomery, a veteran of these productions, was very good as Honore. I liked Benjamin Robinson as Gaston, he had a nice voice, but at times he mistakenly acted stiff instead of aristocratic. Among the locals, Leigh Scarritt was Aunt Alicia and Rita Cartwright was Mamita. Both did serviceable jobs.

This company may be community-based but they put on as professional a production as the scarce arts dollars can afford. Gigi played at The Lyric at North Beach on September 24, 25, 26, and 30 and October 1, 2, and 3, 2010.

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