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Theater Preview: "Gigi" At The UCLA Freud Playhouse

Danielle Price |
February 13, 2011 | 11:34 p.m. PST


Lisa O’Hare (Gigi) and Matt Cavenaugh (Gaston) in Reprise Theatre Company’s “Gigi” at UCLA’s Freud Playhouse (Photo by Ed Krieger)
Lisa O’Hare (Gigi) and Matt Cavenaugh (Gaston) in Reprise Theatre Company’s “Gigi” at UCLA’s Freud Playhouse (Photo by Ed Krieger)
Timeless character Gilberte will light up the UCLA Freud Playhouse’s stage beginning Feb. 16 for a run just shy of two weeks. Is this renowned French courtesan’s name not ringing a bell? This is probably because she is more commonly recognized by her nickname, Gigi.

“Gigi,” a 1973 Broadway musical by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, puts a face to the young ladies growing up in France at the turn of the 20th century. It's a classic coming-of-age story with romance and a fight to break conventional societal standards entwined throughout.

Gigi is the granddaughter of Madame Alvarez ("Mamita”) and comes from a long line of courtesans groomed to appeal to high society. She is sent away to her aunt to learn how to be a good mistress. Gaston, the rich nephew of one of Mamita’s old lovers, enjoys her company but ends up falling in love with Gigi as she sheds her awkward girlish remnants.

After several secret deals, Gigi is contracted to be Gaston’s mistress. She breaks all form when she announces that she wants more for herself than to be a courtesan. Gigi is so in love with him that she decides to relinquish herself into the family business, but is surprised when Gaston asks for her hand in marriage instead.

This young woman’s tale has graced several art mediums. Starting out as a novel in 1945, it was adapted as a play for Broadway in 1951, where Audrey Hepburn made her first debut on an American stage. Her story was then transformed into a 1958 musical film, which won a record-breaking nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

Over a decade later, Gigi returned to the stage, only this time as a musical — the first time a stage musical was adapted from a film musical. It debuted in San Francisco, and after only five months made its way onto the New York Uris Theater stage. It was nominated for four Tonys and left the award season, for a second time, with the title of Best Original Score.

The Reprise Theatre Company is led by “Fraisier” co-creator and nine-time Emmy Award-winning director, David Lee. A lot of talent was pooled for this production — William Atherton as Gaston’s Uncle Honore, Matt Cavenaugh as Gaston, Millicent Martin as Mamita and, in the title role, English actress Lisa O’Hare.

O’Hare has recently scored a number of giant roles, including Mary Poppins and Eliza Doolittle. She can now add Gigi to the list.

O’Hare grew up very quickly. When she was only 11, she left home to study dance at the Royal Ballet School.

She said that Gigi is particularly wonderful to play because the character is such a carefree, feisty girl who is just a child at heart. O’Hare is able to connect with the inner child, she said, yet portray someone who is trying to do something truly revolutionary for women.

O’Hare has played in front of audiences in London, New York and Los Angeles. She said the patrons of the West End, London's equivalent of Broadway, are reserved and that you really have to impress them. On the contrary, she said American audiences provide a warmer relationship.

“London audiences smile,” O’Hare said, “but American audiences laugh. It’s great to perform for them because they really show you how they feel at the end of the show.”

The new face of “Gigi” is on a vigorous rehearsing schedule but draws her support from her husband and friends.

She spoke about the evils of the business — always preparing for a performance or looking for the next project.

“Roles can be consuming,” she said. “You to give yourself time to forget about them. I love to hike. I try to go into the Hollywood Hills with my best friend twice a week. It’s such an achievement to make it to the top and look out on this gigantic city.”



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