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A CurtainUp London London Review

The French are so preoccupied with etiquette that they never learn manners.— Gaston
Millicent Martin as Mamita and Linda Thorson as Aunt Alicia
(Photo: Alastair Muir)
Regents Park Open Air Theatre is an enchanting evening out and with their new musical production of Lerner and Loewe's Parisian based musical Gigi, the experience is even more charming. The stars are out in force with Chaim Topol as Honore, the lovable Parisian rogue and ladies man whose was played in the film memorably by Maurice Chevalier. Millicent Martin plays Gigi's homely grandmother Mamita and Linda Thorson is the elegant and fashionable temptress, Aunt Alicia. Gigi herself is the very talented Lisa O'Hare who has played Mary Poppins in the West End and also Eliza Dolittle in several production in the USA and UK of My Fair Lady. A German leading man Thomas Bourchet with a strong voice and great stage presence is Gaston, the bored young man and heir to a sugar empire with a succession of pretty mistresses.

I remember my mother taking me as a little girl to see the film of Gigi with Lesley Caron but I am sure the premise that Gigi was being groomed as a courtesan, that delicate French word for a kept woman, eluded me. Certainly some of Honore's lines as deliciously delivered by the twinkling Monsieur Topol are witty and rather naughty and may even be more recent additions to the script. I'm not sure nowadays whether, as my companion suggested, "Thank Heaven for Little Girls" wouldn't have the police alerted to potential child abuse.

I was interested to read that Gigi was written as a response to My Fair Lady in that it too deals with career opportunities for women but Gigi doesn't have the narrative sting of GB Shaw's Pygmalion. The story is the romance of Gigi, who has been born into a long line of women who earn their living as beautiful companions to men, and of Gaston Lachaille, a man with too much money and time on his hands.

In Gigi's family, we never meet her mother. Gigi is protected by her sweet grandmother Mamita and groomed for her eventual role as a rich man's plaything by Aunt Alicia who teaches her deportment, how to select a cigar for a gentleman and tell real jewels from the merely showy. Mamita sees her own failed romance years ago with Honore in danger of being replayed by Gigi and Gaston when they go to the Normandy coast at Trouville.

Gigi is full of Gallic chauvinisme and an arrogance of style "It's unfortunate but France has to come to an end somewhere!" says Honore talking about the Normandy coast. Mamita and Honore's accounts differ widely as they recall their meeting some years ago in the song "I Remember it Well". The explanation is that for Honore this was one of many, many encounters with the fair sex but for Mamita, its uniqueness gives her perfect recall. This piece of nostalgia strikes an honest chord.

The characterisations are delightful. There is Linda Thorson's pretty but sophisticated and practical Alicia who, when Gigi suggests that opals are bad luck remonstrates, saying "All semi-precious stones are bad luck!". Lisa O'Hare as Gigi starts the musical as a harum scarum teenager in a blue sailor dress and a straw boater and ends it in a Cinderella ball gown of white muslin. Her voice is commanding and pure. Gaston sings about boredom and has trouble detaching himself from one of his mistresses Liane (Amy Ellen Richardson) and all Paris gossips about the outcome.

Honore's entire wardrobe is in shades of lavender, mauve and purple as the insight into his closet reveals. The clever set is composed of a sweeping curved runway and two Parisian advertising columns of street furniture which advertise Trouville or Lachaille sugar on the outside but which open up to reveal extra scenes, Gigi's home portraits, a library for the signing of a legal contract for Gigi's future orchestrated by Aunt Alicia, Honore's closet, or the towers are lit up to recreate the famous restaurant Maxim's for "The Night They Invented Champagne". The fin de siècle frocks are beautiful as is the corsetry in this recreation of the 1890s with those picture hats and feminine bustles. Men too have canes top hats and sartorial elegance. The beach scene at Trouville has everyone in period, striped all in one and slightly comic bathing suits.

Some of the tunes are very well known and all are pleasant. Stephen Mear's choreography gives us a taste of La Vie Parisienne and the champagne song has everyone holding champagne flutes aloft while they twirl around. I liked Topol as Honore the old lothario whose saucily memorable, and I suspect additional, quotes include, "He made women and then rested — a pattern that has been followed ever since!" Gigi is beautifully performed and good fun!

Music by Frederick Lowe
Book and Lyrics: Alan J Lerner
Original Story: Colette
Directed by Timothy Sheader

Starring: Thomas Borchert, Millicent Martin, Lisa O'Hare, Linda Thorson, Topol
With: Rachael Archer, Paul Bentley, Jennie Dale, Nina French, Francis Haugen, shaun Henson, David Lucas, Jo Morris, Richard Pettyfer, Zoe Rainey, Amy Ellen Richardson, Myra Sands, Laura Scott, Kate Tydeman, Kerry Washington
Set and Costume Design: Yannis Thavoris
Musical Director: Philip Bateman
Choreographer: Stephen Mear
Orchestrations: Steven Edis
Lighting: Simon Mills
Sound: Mike Walker
Running time: Two hours 30 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0844 826 4242
Booking to 13th September 2008
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 15th August 2008 performance at the Open Air Theatre Regents Park London NW1 (Tube: Baker Street and a 15 minute walk)
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Overture
  • Thank Heaven For Little Girls
  • It's A Bore
  • The Earth and Other Minor Things
  • Paris is Paris Again
  • She Is Not Thinking Of Me
  • It's a Bore (Reprise)
  • The Night They Invented Champagne
  • I Remember It Well
  • I Never Want to Go Home Again
Act Two
  • Entr'acte
  • Gigi
  • The Contract
  • I'm Glad I'm Not Young Aymore
  • In This Wide, Wide Worlds
  • At Maxim's
  • Finale — Thank Heaven For Little Girls
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