Monday, November 11, 2013

Friday Dance Party: The Night They Invented Cradle Robbing

Look who raised her ugly mug last week!
Of course, that's the lovely and talented Leslie Caron as prostitute-in-training Gigi.  The 1958 film contains a respected score by Lerner and Leowe, who wrote it as one of only two they composed strictly for the movies (the other was The Little Prince in 1974).  But though our guys thought they were done with Gigi once the film was completed, they weren't, or at least, their score wasn't. 
Soap opera ingenue Karin Wolfe was chosen to
bring Gigi to Broadway in 1973. She should have
stayed on Days Of Our Lives.

Attempts to adapt the movie into a stage version didn't go so well the first time.  Back in 1973, a stage adaptation toured for a while before landing on Broadway for a rather inconsequential run (Agnes Moorehead, bless her, gave her final stage performance in it, before succumbing to cancer). 
Maria Karnalova and Alfred Drake, both Tony winners, could not save the stage version of Gigi.
But news was released last week that Gigi, like Cher, Madonna, and Vampira, is rising from the dead. 
Endora Plays Broadway: as Aunt Alicia, Agnes
Moorehead was the most recognizable name in
Broadway's Gigi. The exhaustive 6 month tour
which preceded the show's NY arrival did her
health no favors. She died during the run and was
replaced by Arlene Francis.

A reinvented version will open at the Kennedy Center in 2015 (they like to plan ahead), to be directed by DC's own Eric Schaeffer.  There will be a new book, apparently, but surely all your favorite tunes from the movie will be present.
Gigi the film won 9 Oscars, setting a record which lasted only a year, until Ben Hur rode up on his chariot and won 11. It's fascinating to note, though, that not a single one of those Oscars was for a performance.  In fact, no one in the cast even received a nomination! Here are Lesley Caron and Louis Jordan, of course, and that's Hermione Gingold on the right;  no, she's not wearing antlers, that's a chandelier.
Gigi the film is not one of my favorites, which is surprising, since it stars one of my Favorite Ladies of a Certain Age, Hermione Gingold, and has some fun performances by Maurice Chevalier and a young Eva Gabor.  I'm afraid, though, that the film adaptations of Lerner and Leowe musicals leave me cold. 
When you ask Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood
to sing, you deserve what you get. Paint Your
Wagon is considered one of the worst movie
musicals ever.

My Fair Lady is considered a classic musical film, but I find it a bit of a sludge to get through (that sucker is looooong), and the less said about Paint Your Wagon, the better.  When Brigadoon was adapted for the movies, it was reinvented as a dance show, to accommodate stars Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse.
Efforts to make Caron seem even more innocent, such as her childish sailor suit above, only increase the feeling that a grown, mature man has no business romancing a teenager. In this light, even Maurice Chevalier's big solo, "Thank Heaven For Little Girls," gives me the creeps.
But back to our gal pal Gigi.  Director Vincente Minnelli certainly delivered his usual high quality product, but I find the story just a little icky. 
Gigi was one of a number of "Francophilia" films of the 1950s.
And its old man / young girl romance was not new; I wrote
about that yucky theme in this Dance Party, again starring
Lesley Caron, this time paired with Fred Astaire.

It is, after all, about the training and coming of age of a hooker, however elegantly you style it.  And the romance which blossoms between the romantic leads adds to the ick factor;  there is a substantial age difference between the characters played by Louis Jordan and Lesley Caron, and my modern sensibility looks upon the relationship as a bit predatory. 
Aunt Alicia checks Gigi for pimples,
common in a teenager, but unacceptable
in a courtesan.

Still, everyone loves the music, and the original film broke the record for Oscar wins (9).
Gingold won the Golden Globe; she was the only
actor to win anything for the film.

When the new and improved stage version shows up year after next, you can bet the casting will be along very different lines. 
The stage Gigi was revived in 2008, in Regent's Open Air Theatre in the UK. That's Millicent Martin and Linda Thorson (remember Thorson? She was the poor woman who had to replace Diana Rigg in The Avengers).
A look back at the original Gigi reveals that none of the actors can claim to be fine singers. 

Gingold and Chevalier were well-known for their cabaret and
revue work, but they had "character voices" which one rarely
finds in professional musicals today. These two were to re-team
in the 1964 rom-com I'd Rather Be Rich.
The clip below illustrates that, while Gingold and Chevalier have very musical qualities, they cannot hold onto a note very long or very strongly.  Louis Jordan did only one other musical (Can-Can), and Caron was dubbed.  
Eric Schaeffer has developed a reputation as an interpreter of Sondheim's works; his Signature Theatre in suburban DC was practically built on its Sondheim productions, and it won the Regional Theatre Tony in 2009.  Eric has delivered several projects to Broadway, and now has an international reputation, but DC still claims him as their own. I know Eric only slightly, but have seen a buttload of his directorial work.  He put the great Christine Baranski in Mame, and effectively shrank Hello, Dolly! for a smaller cast.  His Million Dollar Quartet has companies running all over the place, and his commitment to the development of new musicals has a significant influence over the seasons produced at Signature.  Can he successfully adapt the sophisticated bon-bon Gigi for the stage?  Stay tuned.
Directors don't put up with hiring Actors for musicals these days, they want singers with chops, so the new Gigi cast will presumably be filled with Broadway-type belters. While we wait, enjoy this week's Dance Party, one of the memorable moments from 1958's Gigi. The song is well-known;  two old lovers are unexpectedly reunited.

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