Playbill on Opening Night: Champagne Flowed as Vanessa Hudgens Celebrated the Resurgence of Gigi

News   Playbill on Opening Night: Champagne Flowed as Vanessa Hudgens Celebrated the Resurgence of Gigi
 
"High School Musical" star Vanessa Hudgens made her Broadway debut in the newly retooled musical Gigi. Playbill.com goes behind the scenes at the glamorous Broadway opening.

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You'd think they had invented champagne or something, the way it was sloshed around April 8 at Tavern of the Green. Glasses clinking and bottles popping were a constant no matter where you looked in that luxurious labyrinth of twists and turns. Elaine Stritch's old idea of getting a floor plan before she started drinking suddenly seemed like the soul of reason, given the spectacularly sprawling layout of the place.

The cause of the celebration was two-fold, marking the returns to the theatrical scene of not only the resurrected Tavern as a popular post-show spot but also Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's Gigi to Broadway (in this case, to the Neil Simon).

There was very little jumpin' in the joint it was so people-packed, but they were at least an elegantly attired aggregate. Advanced word that Alice + Olivia had outfitted all the leading ladies in the show carried fast and seemed to up everybody's game. This was not your grandmother's Gigi. True to the edict of Liza Lerner, daughter of the show's legendary wordsmith, "the ick factor" has been edited out of the material.

Heidi Thomas, an Emmy-winning English TV scribe who specializes in adapting 19th-century novels, was engaged to "reinvent" the story and make it more accessible to a modern audience. The heroine Colette created in 1944 is no longer a turn-of-the-century courtesan-in-training but just your average adolescent learning about love right on schedule. "Those little eyes so helpless and appealing" one day flash and send crashing through the ceiling not the rich boulevardier/womanizer on the cusp of 40 who has been a longtime friend of the family, but a smitten youth her own age.

That age for the experienced Gaston has been lowered from his late 30's to a tidy 25, which happens to be the true age of the actor playing him, Corey Cott, the ex-Newsie. Gigi has been aged two crucial years from 16 to 18 and is being played by the 26-year-old graduate of "High School Musical," Vanessa Hudgens. (Audrey Hepburn got away with it when she was 23 and Leslie Caron when she was 27, so let's not stone the girl.) Neither she nor Cott saw the movie until they were cast in the show.

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"I kept telling the actors in rehearsal we were not really doing a revival — we're doing a new musical because we had done so much work on the show, from the new book that Heidi did to reinventing the existing songs," said director Eric Schaeffer.

Intimidating as Hepburn and Caron were, Hudgens rose to the challenge because she felt the material had been reworked to her advantage: "The way we did Gigi is a bit reimagined. It's a bit more modernized, but it still has the heart and soul of Gigi. And because we had a new book, I knew that I was going to be able to create something new within the same world and bring my own interpretation to it."

The moment that Gigi turns the corner into real womanhood is conspicuously noted not only by Gaston but by every male in the theatre and very well-marked by a form-fitting black-and-white creation from costume designer Catherine Zuber, who follows that up with four more "adult looks" for Gigi. "She's a genius," Hudgens readily admitted, "although I will say it took a while to get used to those trains."

Having replaced Jeremy Jordan in Newsies, Cott was — like Hudgens — reveling in the flush and rush of a first opening night: "I've dreamt it since I was 14. That's when first I saw The Tony Awards, New York City and a Broadway show (Wicked)."

Howard McGillin wisely avoids imitating Maurice Chevalier as Honore Lachaille, eschewing even a French accent, confining himself to forgetfulness ("I Remember It Well") and resignation ("I'm Glad I'm Not Young Anymore"), leaving Victoria Clark as Mamita and Dee Hoty as Aunt Alicia to properly "Thank Heavens for Little Girls." "People love the grandmother and the aunt singing 'Thank Heaven for Little Girls,'" relayed Schaeffer. "It makes so much sense. We couldn't have Honore sing that about little girls, so we came up with the idea of what if the two older women do it. After all, they each have different reasons to 'Thank Heaven for Little Girls.'"

If Hoty brings easy authority and confidence to the business of mistress-making, it figures: She once Tony-contended as Best Little Whorehouse's Miss Mona. Clark, a solid scene partner with Hoty and McGillin, has her best moment solo when she introduces "Say a Prayer" to Broadway audiences. The song has been cut twice — from the previous (1973) stage version of Gigi, and, before that, from My Fair Lady.

One final factoid: Gigi is the only musical to win an Oscar and a Tony for Best Score.

Victoria Clark, Vanessa Hudgens and Corey Cott
Victoria Clark, Vanessa Hudgens and Corey Cott Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN
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