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Theater review: 'Gigi' by Reprise Theatre Company

February 17, 2011 |  1:30 pm

GigiParis isn't available for transport.

Too bad. That city lent enchantment to the 1958 created-for-film musical "Gigi," its leafy parks and grand fountains providing glamorous backdrops to Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's tale of a young couple at the dawn of the 20th century who fall deeply and genuinely in love despite the careful instruction of their libertine fin-de-siècle elders.

But the City of Light -- along with much of the rest of the magic -- was missing from a 1973 stage version that, in the prevailing opinion, was a pale copy of its original when presented in Los Angeles by Edwin Lester's Civic Light Opera, then went to Broadway, where it ran for just three months.

Undeterred, the musical-revival specialists of Reprise are poking around this dubious property. They approach the material with enthusiasm and, as they've been doing lately, they've found another underseen but captivating female lead. To Alexandra Silber in "Carousel" and Stephanie J. Block in "They're Playing Our Song" they add, as Gigi, Lisa O'Hare. Still, the results are wan. A faint glow of nostalgia gets smothered in an overall atmosphere of "eh."   

The stage version contains four songs incorporated since the movie, and for the Reprise production, director David Lee tracked down script and lyric improvements that Lerner made for a 1985 production in London's West End.         

Establishing a sense of place, a considerable task, rests largely on Tom Buderwitz's set, with its Art Nouveau filigrees and Alphonse Mucha-like paintings of women in languorous repose, and Kate Bergh's period costumes. Beyond a series of arches, conductor Steve Orich and 20 musicians can be glimpsed, as if they were the house orchestra at one of the story's posh nightspots.

O'Hare's Gigi is playful and impetuous, intelligent and principled. Just look at the sidelong grin of triumph that blooms on her face when her rich acquaintance, Gaston, delivers the inevitable apology for the first of their amorous spats.

Yes, she sounds Julie Andrews-y British, as she did when portraying Eliza Doolittle on tour with "My Fair Lady" in 2008. But geographically, that's considerably closer than the blunt Americanness exhibited by most everyone else.

Closer, certainly, than the Snidely Whiplash impersonation that Matt Cavenaugh, the collegiate-looking  Tony on Broadway in the recent revival of "West Side Story," delivers by way of Gaston's perpetually snooty disdain.

If O'Hare can't find her equal in him, she at least sees its resemblance in Millicent Martin's audience-winning turn as Gigi's grandmother.

Too much of this presentation, however, is heavy on its feet when it needs to nimbly waltz, like Irwin Kostal's orchestrations of Lerner and Loewe's operetta-like (and very "My Fair Lady"-like) songs.

"Gigi" has its charms, though if you go back to view the movie based on Colette's novel, you might well discover that they're warmer in memory than reality.

-- Daryl H. Miller

"Gigi," Reprise Theatre Company at Freud Playhouse, UCLA campus, Westwood. 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Feb. 27. $70 and $75. (310) 825-2101 or www.reprise.org. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.

Photo: Matt Cavenaugh as Gaston and Lisa O'Hare as Gigi in Reprise Theatre Company's "Gigi." Credit: Ed Krieger / Reprise Theatre Company

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