warning Hi, we've moved to USCANNENBERGMEDIA.COM. Visit us there!

Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Theater Review: "Gigi" At The Freud Playhouse

Danielle Price |
February 18, 2011 | 2:30 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

Lisa O’Hare (Gigi) and Matt Cavenaugh (Gaston) in Reprise Theatre Company’s “Gigi” at UCLA’s Freud Playhouse. (Photo courtesy of Ed Krieger)
Lisa O’Hare (Gigi) and Matt Cavenaugh (Gaston) in Reprise Theatre Company’s “Gigi” at UCLA’s Freud Playhouse. (Photo courtesy of Ed Krieger)
William Atherton, playing a sly old fox, opens “Gigi” with a charming smile, long coat tails and a deep belly chuckle. His twinkling eyes enchant hundreds in the audience, as young and old faces watch his silk hat strut across the Freud Playhouse stage at UCLA on opening night.

Reprise Theater Company uses Lerner and Loewe’s classic to transport its patrons to 1901 Paris. As a musical that was brought from the silver screen to the stage, “Gigi” began its history with a knack for breaking conventionality. This rendition is no exception, as it strives to explore new heights of innovation.

Director David Lee writes in the program that upon researching the show, he discovered the writer’s attempt to rewrite the musical over 10 years after its Broadway debut. After reaching out to relatives, lawyers, old secretaries and even Facebook, the director found himself sitting in the parlor of a British actress who had played a role in the revised version in London.

After acquiring Lerner’s revised script and handwritten rehearsal notes from the gracious actress, Lee set out to produce a new rendition of “Gigi” that would accentuate the story of a revolutionary young woman and her struggle with love.

The stage is very simplistic. The entire show is backgrounded by arches and minimal set pieces. Automated sliding boards bring in different furniture pieces and serve to move the show swiftly along and subtly let the audience know whose house the current scene is set in. Lighting is also minimalistic and allows an orchestra veiled by a giant scrim to be seen during party scenes or hidden in light during the day parlor scenes.

The understated set and lighting make the viewers focus their attention entirely on the plot, music and performers. This allows them to relax and relate to the actors as real people instead of as entertainers separated by a world of unreliable bells and whistles. It separates the mice from the men and makes it very clear which actors are putting on an insincere show and which are sharing a slice of humanity with society.

Lisa O’Hare (Gigi), Susan Denaker (Aunt Alicia), Millicent Martin (Mamita) and
Atherton benefit from this approach. It’s clear they are honestly seeking their characters’ voices while balancing on a fine line of speaking directly to the audience without breaking the integrity of the realism. Jason Graae plays several “characters” and is a crowd favorite with his wild eyes and variety of accents.

Though Matt Cavenaugh, playing Gigi’s love interest, has a gorgeous voice, he struggles to find authenticity. During the entire first act, he delivers lines at his cast members, instead of to his lover, uncle or friend. I had hoped Cavenaugh was doing this deliberately to show how love can literally transform a human from a shallow connection to his surroundings to a deep, genuine state. However, the transformation never occurs.

He bursts into every scene with an action-figure smile and predictable inflections, then exits almost every time, shouting insincerely and slamming an imaginary door. There is no character arc and his disconnect is distracting and contradictory to the plot’s overall message — proving that looking the part does not serve as a proper foundation of playing a role.

All vocal performances are superb, but the dancing is by far the most impressive element. Dancers move beautifully to difficult choreography in giant early 20th-century gowns and jewels. There are moments where ladies are suspended upside down in the air and others where at least five are being twirled in the air in utter synchronization.

The cast is spearheaded by artistic director, Jason Alexander, best known for his nine year run as George on “Seinfeld.”

When asked what his advice to aspiring artists who wanted to break into the entertainment after the show he answered, “Study and practice. It’s a craft, not a hobby.”

Reach staff reporter Danielle Price here.



Craig Gillespie directed this true story about "the most daring rescue mission in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.”

Watch USC Annenberg Media's live State of the Union recap and analysis here.