Set against the Belle Époque of Paris, the all-singing, all-dancing musical Gigi is perfectly designed for the magical space that is the Open Air theatre. With the Oscar-winning Chaim Topol starring as Honore and rising star Lisa O’Hare as the vibrant, endearing Gigi, the first night audience couldn’t help but be swept into the world of romance, dances and Parisian glamour.
The Lerner and Loewe musical, most famous for the 1958 film adaptation starring Maurice Chevalier, tells the story of a famous playboy Gaston Lachaille (Thomas Borchert) who is bored and frustrated by his life in Paris and the constant stream of the same-old parties and the same-old women. Encouraged by his uncle Honore to take advantage of his position and follow in his lothario footsteps, Gaston’s life is the talk of the city and his exploits a tabloid favourite in society magazine ‘Oh La La’.
In his relationship with the young Gigi, he finds a breath of fresh air. Unlike the other groomed and knowing women in Paris society, Gigi is boisterous and demanding – a sort of Eliza Doolittle crossed with Pippi Longstocking. However, unbeknown to her, Gigi’s flamboyant great-aunt (Linda Thorson) – ruthless and dripping in diamonds – and her more down-to-earth, homely Grandmother (Millicent Martin) are grooming her for a life as a courtesan, following in their footsteps. When her ‘My Fair Lady’ transformation is complete, Gaston’s affection turns to desire and he attempts to make her his own kept woman. But Gigi, still holding out for true love, will only accept one form of jewellery and that’s a ring on her finger.
Gigi has a score full of songs you forgot you even knew, including Thank Heaven For Little Girls, I Remember It Well and The Night They Invented Champagne, and the cast bound around the stage with just the right level of frivolity and campness. The striking set makes the most of the limited space with poster-covered park pillars that fold out to become Parisian cafes and mirrored boudoirs. The forte of the production is arguably the elaborate costume design, with beautiful jewel-coloured satin dresses, spectacular hats and dapper, colourful suits for the male cast including Topol, proving that after the age of 70 you can still get away with head-to-toe purple.
It is said that all fashions begin in Paris, and it seems with this musical that they began the sexual revolution decades earlier than the youth of the 60s would have us believe. Frivolous and full of humour and warmth, Gigi is a colourful accompaniment to a summer’s evening in Regent’s Park.
For more about Gigi, read our interview with director Timothy Sheader.