Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

Off the Wall Theatre, "GiGi"

On Friday night, December 21st, we went to see Off The Wall Theatre's production of "GiGi," the musical by Lerner and Loewe. This version added some dialog from the stage play, based on the story by Colette.

Set in approximately 1901, the plot revolves around two families. The first is that of Gaston Lachaille (Jeremy C. Welter), a wealthy, world-weary (and world-famous) playboy, and his uncle Honoré (Karl Miller), who is getting on in life but still enjoying the role of a boulevardier, and is alarmed by his nephew's jaded state. The second is that of GiGi (Liz Mistele), a girl just becoming a woman; her sadder but wiser grandmother, Mamita/Inez (Marilyn White), and "Aunt Alicia", Mamita's sister. GiGi's mother, a feckless character who does bit roles at the Opera Comique, is referred to but never seen. GiGi comes from a long line of "women who do not marry" (translation: courtesans), as exemplified by Aunt Alicia, whose career as a "grande horizontal" has garnered her a string of royal conquests and a box of really fine jewelry. Neither Mamita nor GiGi's mother have done as well, and Mamita hopes to spare GiGi the same sorts of disappointments. As we learn, Mamita's disappointments include a long-ago affair with Honoré, which floundered on his inability to commit.

Gaston is a family friend and welcome at Mamita's flat, where he is used to accepting GiGi as a child, being cheated at cards by her, and regaling her with sanitized versions of his amorous (mis)adventures, unaware that GiGi is an avid reader of the yellow press and fully advised on all his scandals. Gaston's boredom comes to a crisis when he ditches his current mistress Liane (Alicia Rice) and then has to pretend that he doesn't care when she "attempts suicide" over the breakup. It's explicitly explained that this is mere drama on her part, and not serious, but it's one of the more problematic points of the script when Honoré gloats over Gaston's "first suicide," implying it's one in a series of manly rites of passage.

Gaston takes a break from his tedious round of parties to go to the seashore, and decides to treat GiGi (who's never seen the sea) and Mamita to a weekend as his guests. It's there that he realizes how free and natural he feels with GiGi, and that he's actually having fun for the first time in years. Mamita realizes that Gaston may be falling for GiGi romantically, and is troubled by the realization.

As the second act starts, Gaston has returned from a trip, and discovers that GiGi has become a young woman: she has traded in her bloomer-style sailor suit for women's skirts, put her hair up, and touched her lips with just a hint of lipstick. Gaston is shocked and upset by the change and barges out. When he returns to apologize, there is further trouble: Mamita will not let Gaston take GiGi to tea, since being seen with him alone would compromise her reputation. Gaston is outraged by the implications of this assertion, and has a lengthy rant about the injustice of it all ("GiGi")until he realizes that he DOES have romantic feelings for GiGi.

So, he decides to do the right thing, which, in his family and hers, involves sending lawyers to negotiate a contract providing for GiGi's housing and support as his mistress. Aunt Alicia drives a hard bargain on her behalf, and everyone is confounded when GiGi refuses, citing, among other things, the pitless glare of the press on everything Gaston does. After considerable angst, GiGi decides that she would rather "be miserable with (him) than without", and accepts Gaston's offer. However, the first time Gaston takes GiGi to Maxim's and see how she is viewed by the other demi-monde, he can't go through with it either.

"GiGi" is a very entertaining show, full of beautiful and clever music. "Thank Heaven for Little Girls," and "I Remember It Well," are familiar show tunes. Nevertheless, it has an edge. Partly that lies in exposing the rampant sexism of the times--see, "first suicide", above, and the lengths women needed to go to, to gain power and economic freedom. When Aunt Alicia is haggling over GiGi's price, they aren't EXACTLY selling GiGi into prostitution, since everything is to go to her on her own behalf, but that's still what it feels like.

The other question is, how old is GiGi, really? An excellent question, given the possibly pedophilic implications of "Thank Heaven for Little Girls," as sung by the grandfatherly Honoré, and when Gaston admits that he himself is old enough to be GiGi's father. Part of what troubled me may have been accidental. Off The Wall has a rather rag-tag costume budget, and the "sailor suit" given Liz Mistele to wear in the first act seems better suited to a ten- or twelve-year old than a sixteen-year old. (Mistele's youthful looks and mannerisms keep her supposed age ambiguous). Pictures, such as the one on the program cover ( or the cover of Colette's novel ( distinctly show a young woman.

That said, it was a fine show, with excellent acting and competent singing by the principals, who carry all the weight of the many songs. The small space doesn't lend itself to big dance numbers, but there was some really clever choreography and business, especially in the "She is Not Thinking of Me," number, where Liane is essentially flirting with everyone but Gaston at Maxim's, while dancing with Gaston.

The small set was divide up into a number of spaces, which, with hurried redressing, adequately represented Mamita's flat, the streets of Paris, Maxim's, or the beach at Normandy.

This was a fun show, very interesting and engaging, and unexpectedly complex.

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Tags: theatre
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