WASHINGTON — You watched it the night they invented champagne. You remember it well, even if you don’t understand the Parisians. So say a prayer for “Gigi” tonight, and thank heaven for musicals.
The lavish production is under way at the Kennedy Center through Feb. 12 in a special pre-Broadway run before the production hits the Neil Simon Theatre in New York City on April 8.
Vanessa Hudgens (“High School Musical”) stars in the title role of a free-spirit who romances a wealthy playboy while being groomed as a courtesan in Paris at the turn of the 20th century.
The iconic part was created by French writer Collette in the 1944 novella, before being brought to Broadway by Audrey Hepburn in 1951, and made famous by Leslie Caron in the 1958 movie, which won nine Oscars, including Best Picture (Arthur Freed) and Best Director (Vincente Minnelli).
“I can’t imagine a better place to premiere this re-imagined production of ‘Gigi’ than Washington,” says director Eric Schaeffer. “This city, designed by French-born architect Pierre Charles L’Enfant, is a perfect match for this wonderful show.”
WTOP sat down with Tony-winner Victoria Clark, who plays the role of Mamita.
“It’s like doing a brand new version of the musical,” Clark tells WTOP. “There are some big surprises. … It really tells this coming-of-age story of this young woman in a much more modern way.”
While the spoken scenes are slightly different, the songbook features all of your favorite numbers from Alan Jay Lerner (lyrics) and Frederick Loewe (music).
And what amazing songs they are: “Thank Heaven for Little Girls,” “I Don’t Understand the Parisians,” “The Night They Invented Champagne” and “I Remember it Well,” among countless others.
Clark’s personal favorite song is the duet “I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore,” which she jokingly relates to her own career. Ten years ago, she won theater’s top prize — the Tony for Best Leading Actress in “The Light in the Piazza” (2005). Now, she’s gearing up for her 13th Broadway show, including a recent turn as The Fairy Godmother in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Cinderella.”
She also recently played Claire Danes’ mother in the Season 4 finale of Showtime’s “Homeland.”
“It’s been a really good year for me,” Clark says, frantically looking for a place to knock on wood, but instead knocking on laminate backstage at the Kennedy Center.
Indeed, Clark knows her way around the building.
“Gigi” marks Clark’s third show at the Kennedy Center. Twenty years ago, she played Smitty across from Matthew Broderick in the pre-Broadway run of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.” Nearly a decade before that, she played Madam Thenardier during the first national company of “Les Miserables” at the Kennedy Center Opera House.
“I was a very young schoolgirl then,” she jokes.
Now, Clark is the accomplished veteran, while Hudgens is the rising talent.
“Vanessa Hudgens is making her big-stage debut and she’ll be making her Broadway debut soon, so Washington audiences should come see it, because they’re gonna see history,” Clark says. “She’s absolutely incredible in this part and I’m really honored to be in the cast with her.”
The Broadway role will help prepare Hudgens for her January 2016 role in “Grease Live,” FOX’s answer to NBC’s “The Sound of Music Live” and “Peter Pan Live.” Hudgens will play the role of Rizzo across from Julianne Hough’s Sandy. No word yet on who will play Danny Zucko.
“She’s really down-to-earth; she’s very sensitive; she’s a true triple threat,” Clark says. “She has a huge heart and she has so much charisma. She doesn’t need any lights on her at all. She just lights up the room when she comes in. And, of course, everybody knows she’s beautiful, but she’s really beautiful on the inside, and I think that’s where a lot of her gift is.”
Hear the full interview with Clark below:
“Gigi” is recommended for ages 10 and up. Click here for ticket information.