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Theater | STAGE REVIEW

Taste of la Belle Epoche

South Bay Cities re-creates Paris' most colorful period with a satisfying production of 'Gigi.'

June 19, 1997|F. KATHLEEN FOLEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"Gigi" at the Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities is a measured production that may not achieve the souffle-like consistency of Lerner and Loewe's famed movie musical--but is nonetheless as hearty and satisfying as a well-prepared cassoulet.

Based on Colette's 1944 novella, "Gigi" was first dramatized in a celebrated 1948 French film. Anita Loos later transformed the story into a nonmusical stage play, various productions of which starred both Audrey Hepburn and Leslie Caron. The 1958 film musical enthralled audiences and swept the Oscars--but it was not until 1973 that the musical was adapted for Broadway.

The film's definitive performances--Caron's saucy Gigi, Louis Jourdan's world-weary Gaston, Maurice Chevalier's waggish Honore and Hermione Gingold's subtly sardonic Mamita--remain hard to beat in any medium. However, the performers at South Bay Cities have their own respective strengths and wisely avoid caricaturing their filmic predecessors.

As Gigi, Holly Bosil has a hard time stepping out of the lambent Caron's shadow, but compensates with a resonant perkiness that reads to the back row. Although John Ganun's bluffly masculine Gaston requires a bit of adjustment at first, the soupcon of added testosterone he brings to the role lends a satisfying oomph to the love story. Jack Ritschel's salubriously straightforward Honore is blessedly devoid of the affected twinkling only Chevalier could have pulled off. And Brooks Almy's Mamita taps into depths of humanity unplumbed by the brittle Gingold.

A blast from the past--the Belle Epoque, to be exact--this charming period romance captures the gaiety and sophistication of Paris at its most colorful cultural zenith, before World War I washed the international landscape with ineradicable shades of gray. The rented sets--vivid Fauvian backdrops of familiar Paris scenes--superbly re-create the era, as do the lavish rental costumes, which have been augmented and modified for this production by costumer Peggy J. Kellner.

Choreographer Anne Marie Roller fluidly orchestrates the occasional dance sequences. Mark Madama's unostentatious staging and Steven Smith's exacting musical direction keep the proceedings simple yet pointed. Durable ephemera, "Gigi" continues to inspire delight--as well as a keen nostalgia for a worldly yet more innocent time.

BE THERE

"Gigi" at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, 1935 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Redondo Beach. Today-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 7 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 2 p.m. Ends Sunday. $20-$55. (310) 372-4477. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

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