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'Gigi' review: Prettied up for a new age

Vanessa Hudgens as Gigi in the new Broadway

Vanessa Hudgens as Gigi in the new Broadway production of GIGI, book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, music by Frederick Loewe, adaptation by Heidi Thomas, choreographed by Joshua Bergasse and directed by Eric Schaeffer, at the Neil Simon Theatre (250 West 52nd Street). Credit: Margot Schulman

For 11-year-old girls, "Gigi" is very pretty and nice. For much of the rest of us, this disconcertingly wholesome new version of the 1958 Oscar-winning movie about raising a French courtesan is very pretty and bland.

Much care has been lavished on this reworking of the demi-classic with the lush romantic songs by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe and a story, based on the 1944 novella by Colette, about a French girl who resists being bought as a privileged mistress for rich older men in 1900.

Starring the talented Vanessa Hudgens of "High School Musical" in her confident Broadway debut, the show, efficiently directed by Eric Schaeffer, has been sanitized, flattened and sentimentalized from stylish sophistication to what feels like a cornfed love story with beautifully ornamented Belle Epoque staircases (by Derek McLane) and gorgeous period costumes (by that wizard, Catherine Zuber).

I understand the impulse -- probably the need -- to age Gigi from 15 to a more legitimate 18 and to make Gaston, the dashing 30-year-old sugar baron, closer to her age. Even more, I welcome the excision of unpleasant innuendo by taking "Thank Heaven for Little Girls" from the child-ogling old roué (Maurice Chevalier in the movie) and giving it to Gigi's grandmother and aging-courtesan aunt.

In making Gaston so close to Gigi's age, however, Heidi Thomas' adaptation robs even a frisson of inappropriate tension from the courtship. Nor does it help to have cast Corey Cott, a drab, boyish actor with a good voice but little charisma, as the playboy whose exploits are legend to all of Paris.

Hudgens may not be anyone's idea of a successor to the stage play's Audrey Hepburn and the movie's Leslie Caron. While she has the flair of a stage natural and soars through her few ballet sequences in Joshua Bergasse's busy and pedestrian choreography, her voice has the steely, engaging quality of a Disney heroine singing through helium.

Victoria Clark brings her burnished voice and deep intelligence to the role of the caring grandmother, and Dee Hoty is wonderfully, elegantly malevolent as Gigi's aunt, a shrewd, aging courtesan. Howard McGillin's portrayal of the dapper old lady-killer is pleasantly understated.

This never was top-drawer Lerner and Loewe, who did it better in "My Fair Lady."  But it had great style along with some remarkable songs. The style is much missed.

WHAT "Gigi"

WHERE Neil Simon Theatre, 250 W. 52nd St.

INFO $57-$147; 877-250-2929; gigionbroadway.com

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