Camelot Theatre finds a new pulse in an old story with 'Gigi'

"Gigi" began life as a Colette novel and became in turn the straight play that broke Audrey Hepburn to the world, a multiple Academy Award-winning film of 1958 and a romantic musical comedy for the stage.

To see the musical today is to inhabit a fin de siecle world of Gallic romance refracted through the lens of Broadway at mid-century.

In the new production that opened Friday at Camelot Theatre in Talent, director Livia Genise has cut through all the baggage to see "Gigi" for what it surely is: a French Cinderella story.

This is what happens when a young girl from humble beginnings meets a handsome — if terminally bored — prince.

Of course you need a terrific Gigi for "Gigi" to work. Genise didn't have far to look. Amanda Andersen, her daughter, 20 but looking younger, is just right as the gawky, late-adolescent Gigi. Andersen lights it up singing songs such as "I Don't Understand the Parisians" with aplomb and charms your socks off with a swan-necked, doe-eyed grace.

It is remarkable these days that a smallish, semi-professional theater company would even tackle a big musical such as this — with 23 actors, 16 songs, a live music combo and big-screen video projections — in a 100-seat room. Camelot not only crammed it all in but made it pop on a stage that serves as Gigi's home, a law office, Maxim's restaurant, a French beach town and the Champs-Élysées.

It is Belle Epoque Paris of 1901, and Gigi is being groomed by her grandmother, Mamita (Ellen Holt-Murray), and her Aunt Alicia (Presila Quinby) to be a courtesan.

That is, to be kept by a wealthy older man.

While a courtesan's status is in no way that of a wife, the older women see it as preferable to the other alternatives open to a young Parisian girl with no money or connections — like marrying a working-class man and having "four babies in three years" or entering the dubious, not-quite respectable world of singers and (gasp) actors.

There is a hint of something creepy when the lecherous old boulevardier Honore (Bob Jackson Miner) sings "Thank Heaven for Little Girls" on the Bois de Boulogne as he leers at the upcoming crop of, er, talent: Thank heaven for little girls/for little girls get bigger every day!/Thank heaven for little girls/they grow up in the most delightful way!

You gotta think dirty old man. But whether this is 21st-century sexual politics or just a starchy, Anglo-Saxon reaction to frankly romantic Gallic culture, there's no time for such questions. Colette's exotic/satiric world is rendered with such brio we quickly and willingly enter it.

Gaston (Michael Maisonneuve), a wealthy bachelor and friend of the family, has brought Gigi caramels for years. Unlike his uncle, Honore, Gaston is bored with the roue's life while still a young man. Where can he find a young woman worthy of his attentions (wink wink)?

Enter Mamita and Aunt Alicia with a little conspiracy to teach Gigi the womanly wiles she needs in order to become an alluring companion for Gaston — and someday, inevitably, the next older man whose bed she'll share. But Gigi soon has ideas of her own, ideas that may yet turn Gaston from an ennui-afflicted frog into a prince.

Holt-Murray's Mamita brings a sense of world-weary wisdom to her little enterprise for Gigi. Miner inhabits Honore with such charm that we actually like the old rake. He also has singing chops. The two make the best of a chance to shine together in "I Remember It Well."

Quinby is comically fierce in the juicy role of the aunt who imparts to Gigi the things she won't learn in school, things like developing a healthy scorn for semi-precious stones and the proper way to "insinuate" oneself into a chair. Fierce in pursuit of her utterly inconsequential values, she's the play's comic center of gravity.

Maisonneuve is a bit stiff as Gaston. The part wants a bit more arc as he comes to see the truth about his ugly duckling. But he's an accomplished singer who does justice to great Lerner and Lowe tunes like "Gigi" and his effective duets with his Uncle Honore.

"Gigi" is lively, joyous entertainment somehow scaled into a small room. The orchestra performs so beautifully off-stage — and the actors are so in synch with it — you almost forget it's there. Some of the tunes — but only some — don't really move the plot along, and the musical has a certain cartoonish character compared with the play. But not to quibble. This is a rousing production that finds the living pulse of an old classic.

Bill Varble writes about arts and entertainment for the Mail Tribune. He can be reached at

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