- - Monday, January 12, 2015

“Gigi” arrives at the Kennedy Center in a sparkling-new, Broadway-bound adaptation directed by Eric Schaeffer. Mr. Schaeffer and British screenwriter/playwright Heidi Thomas (“Cranford,” “Upstairs, Downstairs,” “Call the Midwife”) have crafted the beloved story into a sumptuous production sure to delight a new generation and please film buffs who adored the 1958 film that won multiple Academy Awards.

The tuneful score, with lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe, was retained when the movie was repackaged into a 1973 Broadway musical, followed by a West End production in 1985, but neither project enjoyed the original’s success.

Now master director Mr. Schaeffer moves in unexpected ways to capture the romance of turn-of-the-century Paris and a young girl’s quest to find her true love. To recreate the charm of the era, he chose a design team to dazzle the eye and a cast of headliners to bring the colorful characters to life.

Victoria Clark, Tony winner for Best Leading Actress in a Musical for “The Light in the Piazza,” plays Madame Alvarez, or Mamita, Gigi’s grandmother. She is joined by Tony nominees Dee Hoty (“Footloose”) and Howard McGillin (“The Phantom of the Opera”), Corey Cott (“Newsies,”), Steffanie Leigh (“Mary Poppins”) and recording artist/Disney Channel star Vanessa Hudgens as Gigi.

“One of the most important things Eric has done is to cleverly redistribute some of the songs to suit the story and appeal to today’s audience,” Ms. Clark told The Washington Times. “For instance, the movie opened with Honore, a middle-aged man, singing ‘Thank Heavens for Little Girls.’ Eric thought that was too creepy for modern times, so he gave it to me to sing later on as I reflect on my love for Gigi. This makes much more sense, as do the other changes he made.

“I’m lucky that I’ve been assigned some of the best songs,” Ms. Clark said, “including ‘I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore,’ ‘The Night They Invented Champagne’ and ‘Say a Prayer for Me,’ which Gigi sang originally. Mamita sings it at a moment when she is completely lost and all alone. Eric wanted to include every song from the score that people love, and he did, but in intriguing new ways. As one with a great nose for corny, he avoided turning ‘I Remember It Well’ into a corny number.”

Ms. Clark is the perfect choice to handle major vocal chores. Her extensive career in theater, concert halls and television includes such musicals as “Titanic,” “Guys and Dolls,” “Sunday in the Park with George,” “Follies” and “Bye Bye Birdie.” She frequently appears with symphony orchestras, is a master teacher worldwide and is currently artist-in-residence at Pace School of the Performing Arts. Whether performing or directing, she seeks and respects outstanding writing.

Heidi Thomas‘ skills include a great sense of humor,” she said. “She gave every character her own arc. This version is much more Gigi-centric than the film in how the young girl expresses a mind of her own by saying no to all suggestions. After the makeover ballet, Heidi took that and flipped it to show that Gigi is moving in her own direction. This approach teaches us how important it is to listen to the younger generation. Vanessa Hudgens is a wonderful Gigi and sets the pace for this outstanding musical.”

Ms. Clark’s rich background as both performer and teacher began in Dallas, where her family attended every opera and play that came to town. Her urge to create took her to New York and early casting in both drama and musical roles. Although her first wish was to direct, she was content to perform for many years. Her recent opportunity to direct “A Light in the Piazza” at Pace School of the Performing Arts allowed her to view her acclaimed role from a new angle as she coached her students.

“It’s such a pleasure to be back in the Kennedy Center,” she said. “It’s hard to believe that the last time was 20 years ago when Megan Mullally, Matthew Broderick and I were in the revival of ‘How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.’ Now I’m here with ‘Gigi,’ another great show that promises to be just as successful.”


WHAT: The world premiere of “Gigi” with music by Lerner and Lowe

WHERE: The Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater

WHEN: Jan. 16-Feb. 22

INFO: Tickets: $45-$145; Tue-Sun., 7:30 p.m., Sat. & Sun. 1:30 p.m., 202/467-4600, https://www.kennedy-center.org/events/?event=TPTSD

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