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Thank Heaven for grown-up women

Merry-Go-Round's "Gigi"

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"Those little eyes so helpless and appealing, one day will flash and send you crashin' thru the ceilin'," sings Honore, eternal bachelor and aging Frenchman, referring to the lovely pubescent girls who dance around him. Creepy? A little bit. If you think about it too hard, the whole plot of Gigi seems slightly pedophiliac.

The musical opens on Gigi's birthday, and, although we never find out exactly which birthday it is, Gigi's sailor suit and bobbing yellow curls hint that she is in her early teens. Unsure as to whom her father is, Gigi lives with her impoverished, unmarried mother and her loving, likewise unmarried grandmother, Mamita. In "celebration" of her special day, Gigi meets with her wealthy great Aunt Alicia for lessons intended to transform her into a young lady styled to attract the "right" kind of men. Whisked around the world, wined, dined, and lavished with jewels by King after Sultan after Prince, Aunt Alicia wants Gigi to follow in her footsteps instead of those of Gigi's mother.

Gaston Lachailles is handsome, filthy rich, and the Colin Farrell of 1901 Paris. His every romantic whim satisfied with any and every lady, Gaston is a notorious player covered ravenously by the Paris gossip rags. Desperate to escape his horribly taxing life of extravagance, Gaston slums it with Mamita and Gigi on a daily basis. Charmed by Gigi's innocence and exuberance, Gaston falls for her, despite their cavernous age gap.

Because every lily white reputation Gaston touches is tarnished, Mamita is rightly concerned. What will happen to Gigi if Gaston uses her up and tosses her out?

Gigi sings with charisma, dances with delicacy, and moves from ingénue to maturity with humor and delight. Luckily, Daryl Getman, playing the title role, is an obscenely talented triple-threat who not only has a lovely singing voice, but performs with incredible grace en pointe in the second act's ballet.

The cast is peppered with elegant performers. Distinguished and humorous, Lawrence Merritt as Honore lives up to the precedent set by Maurice Chevalier in the Oscar-winning film version. Jo Ann Cunningham as Aunt Alicia and Kathleen Huber as Mamita play the sisters at opposite ends of a dichotomy with class and stellar comic timing. Their performance, with Robert Miller, of "The Contract," the song in which Gaston bargains with auntie and grandma to buy Gigi's love with an apartment, staff, car, and luxuries beyond this girl's imagination, is hilarious. At the same time, when the audience realizes that Gigi is being made into a very high-class hooker, it's disturbing. A tall, dark, and handsome drink of water with a booming baritone voice and villainous goatee, Douglas Ladnier, as Gaston, is charming.

The sets are merely workable, a step above what high school students might construct with the help of some crafty fathers. The songs by Lerner and Loewe are mostly forgettable, with the exception of "Thank Heavens for Little Girls" and "I Remember it Well." There isn't much to the story, and the moral --- supposedly "love conquers all" --- is delivered through a wildly creepy relationship.

However, the costumes, designed by Travis Lope, are beautiful: men in formal tuxedoes with tails and women in spats and ankle length skirts with bustles that would put J. Lo to shame. In the ballet scene, Gigi glides across the stage in a baby blue and white whalebone corset, pantaloons, and a transparent, flowing dress. The dancing, choreographed by director Paul David Bryant, ranges from traditional ballet to the can-can, all performed with precision and energy.

So, get lost in Gigi. But whatever you do, don't over think it.

Gigi, through September 2, at Merry-Go-Round Playhouse, EmersonPark, off Route 38A, Auburn. $26-$34. 315-255-1785. www.merry-go-round.com.

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