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Posts tagged ‘Hermione Gingold’

Of Two “New” French Musicals on Bway, “Gigi” Bubbles to the Top

Gigi 1Of the two “brand new” French musicals on Broadway, “Gigi” is by far my favorite of the two. If I had to pick. And I do. This being theater awards season and all.

I just loved “Gigi” more than I did “An American in Paris”. Both opening inexplicably within days of each other on the Great White Way. And both based on the Oscar-winning movie musicals, both set in Paris, both directed by the great Vincente Minnelli, and both films starring the ever-soignee Leslie Caron.

I was utterly captivated by this “new” “Gigi” now starring the tiny little Disney starlet perky Vanessa Hudgens. I was really ready to not like what this revival of “Gigi”, one of my favorite films of all time, portended. A French “High School Musical” which is Ms. Hudgens’ prior claim to fame.

But it completely captivated me.  Why? Well, it was almost like discovering a new Lerner and Loewe musical from when they were in their prime.

“Gigi” was based originally on a novella by the great French writer Collette, which was then turned into a play(without music) starring the young and then-unknown Audrey Hepburn. It was a hit in 1951 and launched Hepburn’s career..

Then Vincente Minnelli and Lerner and Loewe decided to musicalize it  this time as a movie, and voila! It won NINE Academy Awards including Best Picture, and was an international hit movie(as was “An American in Paris” also a superb film, but more on that later.)

THEN, in a little-known side-bar to American Musical Comedy history, it was made into a Broadway musical adding in more music in the early ’70s with Alfred Drake and Agnes Moorehead and it flopped. Taking with it some wonderful songs “Paris is Paris Again”. “A Toujours”, “I Never Want to Go Home Again” and more.

Not to be heard again, until now. This current “Gigi” has got a lot of very good things just right. It’s got a je ne sais quoi adaptation  by Heidi Thomas, who has captured the great elan this souffle MUST have. She has retained all the famous numbers, but er, re-arranged them all over the place.

Giving songs that were sung by Maurice Chevalier, for instance, “Thank Heavens for Little Girls” to the non-pareil Tony Winner Victoria Clark. Clark is having ANOTHER great Broadway moment as Mamita, the role made famous in the movie by legendary British comedianne Hermione Gingold. Clark, also scores with a solo that was formerly Gigi’s, “Say a Prayer.” Her role as Gigi’s gran-mere is emphasized here and her golden soprano used to perfection. This version of “Gigi” seems to be being told from the grandmother’s very sympathetic point of view.

Of course, you really have to squint in the  delightfully dark Belle Époque settings of Derek McLane ( atmospherically lit to perfection by Natasha Katz, who also has lit “An American in Paris”!) to see that “Gigi” is the story of a young girl being raised by her grandmother and aunt to be a high-class prostitute. The Disney-i-facation is apparent here, because it’s so subtle, so INFERRED. A tween Hudgens fan, might rightly assume the Gigi’s gran-mere is overly concerned with getting Gigi a very nice apartment.

Victoria Clark is mightily aided in this dramatic re-interpretation by the delicious Dee Hoty as Gigi’s Aunt Alicia, and Clark’s sister-in-crime. In fact, they BOTH sing “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” the first time we hear it. And we hear it a lot. It is to their vast credit that “Gigi” is as witty and insouciant this time around. The duo never cease to delight and surprise.

Keeping up the male end of things is the incredibly agile, incredibly young and incredibly short Gaston of Corey Cott. Ms. Hudgens, as I said, is quite tiny, too, so they seem made for each other. Playing a world-weary bon-vivant is a bit of a stretch for youngster Cott ( a 40-something Louis Jourdan played him so memorably in the movie), but Cott is just right here in joining in the joie de vivre of Mamita and Gigi as they (and then all of Paris) celebrate “The Night They Invented Champagne.”

Cott also hits a dramatic high-point, this time on a moonlit park bench, with the title song “Gigi.”

Far less successful is the unfortunate Howard McGillin, who has to fill Chevalier’s huge Gallic shoes. His & Mamita’s “Yes I Remember It Well” is sung with an umbrella in a rain shower. It was all wet. He seems to be apologizing for his performance every time he steps onstage.

But McLane’s setting, Katz’ ever-versatile lighting and Catherine Zuber’s exuberant costumes carry along youngsters Cott and Hudgens til, yes, we watch them grow up right before our eyes, as they become the stage stars they have to be to make this “Gigi” work. That’s not the original Collette’s plot, but it is enjoyable nonetheless.

I love Old Fashioned Book Musicals, with characters rather than concepts,and heavenly music that bubbles you out the door, and if you do, too, “Gigi” is the new-old musical for you.

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“A Little Night Music” in Brooklyn

Judith Roberts

I find myself lately wandering more and more out to Brooklyn, which to this Native New Yorker, a Manhattan-dweller, is equivalent these days of traveling to a foreign country. And I always get lost. The weather was with me, but the subways weren’t.

This time the trains weren’t helping. The “F” subway line was on a weekend schedule where it skipped the stops that I had to take to see the Gallery Players production of “A Little Night Music.” So I ended up getting out at an earlier stop (before the skips started) and ended wandering around a deserted, desolate, rather intimidating moon-scape of storehouses and warehouses, all shuttered for the weekend. It went on and on. For blocks upon blocks. Pot holes everywhere. Thank goodness the sun was up!

New York has been suffering through one of the worst winters on record but this day, a Sunday, was unseasonably warm and bright, so I took the chance for going alllll the way out to Brooklyn to see the Gallery Players for the first time. It was a Matinee Day and the sun was up or I would’ve been REALLY daunted.

Now the Gallery Players’ mandate is to serve its’ community in the Park Slope area of Brooklyn. “Broadway in Brooklyn” its’ ads proudly proclaim, and I’m sure the residents nearby its’ location delight in the idea of attending an enterprising theatrical mainstay that is in walking distance.

The Gallery Players are a sort of semi-professional group. An Actor’s Equity Showcase, it boasted an afternoon of excellent singing actors, some giving stand-out, blazing Broadway-style turns, like Judith Roberts as Madame Armfeldt, whom I’ll get to in a minute, and then others who were embarrassingly amateurish. They could sing, but they couldn’t act. But it was lovely hearing that great score once again. It always enchants.

Nevertheless “Little Night Music” was a wildly uneven, seemingly under-rehearsed production. And any production of one of Stephen Sondheim’s best-ever musicals has to compete in my mind with memories of the blazing Broadway original, directed by Harold Prince. Both he and Sondheim were at the heights of the respective careers when “A Little Night Music” exploded on to Broadway in the 1970s.

I remember Glynis Johns, who could barely sing a note, being just wonderful as Desiree Armfeldt. She was so vivid, so sensual, so charismatic as the Swedish actress, all these men keep chasing after madly in Stockholm at the turn of the last century. Based on an Ingmar Bergman movie “Smiles of a Summer Night,” to which it is, in my mind, far, far superior, Sondheim wrote “A Little Night Music” completely in waltz time. It’s one of his best scores, if not THEE best.

I remember so well the shock of the five-person quintet of aristocrats bursting into the semi-operatic “Remember? Remember?” at the beginning of the show.

Then having it settle down to this opulent, melodic score that just soared, although the two central female characters played by Glynis Johns, and, as her mother, Hermione Gingold, couldn’t sing a note.

Rita Rehn, as the vixen/actress Desiree Armfeldt, here was bouncy and charming and really wow-ed me with her unexpectedly poignant rendition of “Send in the Clowns”, the song that some consider Sondheim’s best. And certainly the most popular.

As I heard it for the first time on Broadway, I knew it was an instant classic, but it was ironically(or perhaps cynically) being croaked by an actress Glynis Johns who could barely hit the one of two notes required for it. But here in Park Slope, Rita Rehn moved me quite unexpectedly by her “Send in the Clowns.”

And it couldn’t have come soon enough. The pace of this production was REALLY slow.

But the other saving grace of “A Little Night Music” was Judith Roberts towering turn as Desiree’s sensible courtesan mother, the wheel-chair bound Madame Armfeldt, who bemoans the present state of amour in “Liasons”. Ms. Roberts is giving what can only be described as a legendary interpretation of this terrific role and ranks right up there with Gingold and Elaine Stritch and all the other great ladies who have played this iconic role.”Fire opal pedants!” being one of my all-time favorite lyrics. M. Armfeldt exclaims this mid-song describing one of the great gifts, a long-ago lover bestoyed upon her.

She, unlike the others I’ve seen. chose to sing “Liasons” standing up, and not in a wheel chair, which added to her and its’ power as a show-stopper immeasurably. She brought down the house. And I would venture to say that her performance alone is worth the trip out to Brooklyn to see the Gallery Players before the run of this production ends on Feb. 16. Her Madame is right up there with Gingold and Stritch, who played the part previously.

I would be remiss if I didn’t cite others in this large cast who are also doing yeoman jobs that are worth seeing. Main among them, Ron Langeder, as Count Karl Magnuss, the bristling, jealous dragoon lover of Desiree,Emily Stokes, as Anne, the inguenue, who here is a quite montrous still-a-virgin very young wife of the lawyer Egerman and
Scott Vicari, showing in the small role of Frid, a servant, Stanislavski’s great maxim, there is no such thing as a small part, only small actors. And Vicari shows that he is not a small actor by any means. He glows like a jewel in the background with focused intelligence and the presence of a star, whether he is pushing Madame Armfeldt’s wheel-chair, or seducing the servant girl in “I Will Marry the Miller’s Son.”

So in conclusion “A Little Night Music” by the Gallery Players is a mixed-bag of baubles indeed, but one you should definitely look in to. You might find a diamond, like Judith Roberts.

The Gallery Players are located at ~
199 14th St, #2, Brooklyn, NY 11215
Cross Streets: Between 5th Ave and 4th Ave
Neighborhoods: South Slope, Brooklyn
(718) 832-0617
galleryplayers.com

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