The Theatreguide.London Review
Open Air Theatre Summer 2008
This is the stage version of the 1958 Vincente Minnelli film (which won nine Oscars) which Alan Jay Lerner (book and lyrics) and Frederick Loewe (music) softened somewhat from Colette's novel about a young girl being groomed for life as a courtesan or rich man's wife, whichever came first.
While the novel was built on the irony that seemingly exploited women might actually be using their sexual power to exploit and manipulate men, Lerner sugar-coated it all so few sensibilities could be ruffled.
In this open-air production, Timothy Sheader's direction successfully balances the theme of female sexual exploitation with the new reality where women manipulated their sexuality to secure economic and social status. So Gigi's aunt, who we are told "changed hands more often than Alsace-Lorraine", is actually teaching her how to exploit the reality they live in to their advantage.
Paris of 1901 is embraced with panache in this tuneful revival, through the impressive set and costumes designed by Yannis Thavoris, where two kiosks compensate for the absence of a revolving stage by unfolding into impressive interior scenes.
This is the
Belle Epoque of the courtesan, and the audience is lured into that world
by Chaim Topol's charming and direct address as a bemused observer.
In the musical, Gaston (Thomas Borchert), born with a silver spoon, leads a life of decadence and boredom. He finds refuge from his shallow social activities in the modest home of his uncle, Honore, whose former mistress Mamita (Millicent Martin) lives with her lively and playful sixteen year old granddaughter, Gigi (Lisa O'Hare).
Gigi's childlike enthusiasm and unspoiled naivete captivate Gaston, even as her grandmother and her formidable aunt Alica (Linda Thorson) are working to strip her of that innocence by coaching the young woman in the ways of the world. And all of this is performed to a score filled with such classics as 'Thank Heaven for Little Girls,' 'The Night They Invented Champagne' and the title song.
Topol appropriately dominates and charms as the aging roue, with each of the other principals shining. The transition of attention from Honore to Gaston and from Gaston to Gigi and from them to the two ladies adamant to groom Gigi, is seamless and impressive. Stephen Mear's choreography is nicely set off by the familiar tunes produced by the band directed by Phil Bateman.
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