WHEN IT COMES to theater, audiences fall into two camps — those who like musicals and those who don’t. I’m firmly in the former category, a certifiable song-and-dance lover. And so was the audience who leapt to their feet yelling “Bravo!” on opening night of the Kennedy Center’s production of “Gigi,” starring Vanessa Hudgens, directed by Signature Theater’s Eric Shaeffer.
The crowd of the young and the old(er) cheered (indeed, had to refrain from singing along) with the well-known Lerner & Loewe tunes — “Thank Heaven for Little Girls,” “The Night They Invented Champagne” and “I Remember It Well,” among many, many others — and clapped for the terrific dancing by the ensemble cast.
Hudgens adds the right amount of sauce to her role as the precocious and then grown-up Gigi. Corey Cott as confirmed bachelor Gaston Lachaille sings the title song with enough passion to make your heart break for him. Gigi’s grandmother Mamita (played by Victoria Clark) and Aunt Alicia (Dee Hoty) make a memorable pair as they battle over the importance of teaching Gigi to serve coffee correctly and drawing up a legal document to ensure Gigi’s future as Gaston’s mistress. The latter involves a hilarious scene with a posse of lawyers, whom Alicia instructs her help not to let even sit on the upholstery. Gaston’s uncle Honore Lachaille (Howard McGillin) is a charming scoundrel who himself gives into the sweet but strong Mamita when they sing the duet “I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore.” Even though ex-girlfriend Liane d’Exelmans (Steffanie Leigh) is thoroughly unlikable, it’s hard not to fall for her voice.
Finally, there’s the play’s setting — the enchanting Belle Epoque Paris of small cafes, velvety interiors and glamorous fashion. A night at Maxim’s calls for white tie and couture long dresses. Bien sur.
If you miss the show in D.C., you can catch it on Broadway when it opens April 8.