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Theater Review: “Gigi” at the Kennedy Center

Vanessa Hudgens stars in a sparkling new production of the classic musical.

The cast of Gigi at the Kennedy Center. Photograph by Joan Marcus.

Thank heaven for grand old musicals. A brilliant score and a new production polished like a jewel give this revival of Lerner and Loewe’s Gigi the attention it deserves.

It is Paris in 1900, when a rich man can pick a prize paramour at will as long as he is willing to pay for his passion. Young Gigi (Vanessa Hudgens) is being groomed to become just such a prize by her loving grandmother (Victoria Clark) and calculating great-aunt (Dee Hoty). Gigi’s youthful exuberance delights Gaston (Corey Cott) a bored young buck in the process of discarding one mistress and searching for a replacement. In the intermission between the first and second acts, Gigi “blossoms like a flower” and Gaston falls in love with her.

In this new, more politically correct version of the story adapted by Heidi Thomas (Call the Midwife), Gigi bemoans her lack of occupational options, and Gaston’s aging roué uncle Honoré (Howard McGillin) doesn’t get to sing the show’s anthem “Thank Heaven for Little Girls”—it’s instead performed by Gigi’s grandmother and great-aunt. In fact, Honoré doesn’t seem to be having much fun—a pity to those of us who remember Maurice Chevalier twinkling in the Oscar-winning 1958 movie version.

Talent will out in this production. Victoria Clark and Dee Hoty steal the show to a degree that often makes the Gigi-Gaston romance seem like a subplot. Hudgens and Cott are fair of face and sweet of voice, but they can’t compete with the powerful performances of the old pros.

Still, Gigi is a feast for the eye as well as the ear. The costumes (by Catherine Zuber) are sumptuous, the sets (Derek McLane) are gorgeous, and the lighting (Natasha Katz) is magical. Director Eric Schaeffer capably helms this old gem, and casting Hudgens, the star of High School Musical, is bound to attract younger audiences. See it before Gigi picks up her picture hat and moves to Broadway.

Gigi is at the Kennedy Center through February 12. Tickets ($45 to $150) are available online.