Vanessa Hudgens, Heidi Thomas Talk Reinventing ‘Gigi’ on Opening Night

Gigi Production Still 2 - H 2015
Margot Schulman

Gigi Production Still 2 - H 2015

“It’s a timeless love story," says Hudgens. "My friends who have seen the show say Gigi is Vanessa on her happiest day. It’s definitely me. I get to be happy every day.”

In case you haven’t heard already, in the revival of Gigi on Broadway, Honoré Lachaille does not open the musical with the famous Lerner and Loewe song “Thank Heaven for Little Girls,” as Maurice Chevalier does in the 1958 film, playing that role. Instead the tune, which adapter Heidi Thomas deemed a little inappropriate coming from an aging playboy, is sung by the title character’s grandmother (Victoria Clark) and great-aunt (Dee Hoty) while reflecting on their own youth.

“Heidi Thomas, our writer, did such a phenomenal job of keeping the heart and soul of the original Gigi but making it accessible to modern-day audiences,” says the show’s star Vanessa Hudgens at the opening-night party at Tavern on the Green in New York on Wednesday night.

Even though the story, based on a 1944 Colette novella, follows a young courtesan-in-training who is wooed by a much older playboy, Thomas focused on the love story, wanting to make it more romantic rather than potentially predatory. In the film and in the 1973 Broadway flop, the age gap between man-about-town Gaston and Gigi was much larger, though Thomas confirms that she hasn’t changed the original intention by shrinking the age divide.

“It’s still a big gap in terms of experience, because he’s a young man of the world and she has been very sheltered,” explains Thomas, who is most recognized stateside for her work on the popular British series Call the Midwife. “So I feel that that gap in experience plays in the same way without actually imposing the profound level of distaste for that relationship and for this property as a musical.”

Read more 'Gigi' Theater Review

“It makes the love story more reasonable and sexy and romantic,” adds Hudgens.

However, Thomas made changes to Gaston and Gigi beyond their ages. In the earlier versions, Gigi has very little agency as an individual, with her grandmother and great-aunt making most of her decisions for her.

“It seems very odd to have a titular heroine who isn’t actually in charge of her own destiny,” Thomas says. “A great deal of my process as a dramatist was that Gigi was driving the action, that she wasn’t just a pawn.”

She also gave Gaston more ambition to use his wealth and status for good. In the film, he is a lazy playboy, bored with the world, and since the story is set in turn-of-the-century Paris, she gave him an interest in science and invention, and a fascination for the World’s Fair that took place in the city around that time.

“I personally was not riveted by the soul of Gaston in any other version of Gigi,” says Corey Cott, who plays Gaston. “What Heidi did was give him a passion and give him a soul and allow his soul to be shaken and to be wrecked with the idea of what true love means.”

Guests including Lea DeLaria, Barbara Walters, Ana Gasteyer and Andrew Rannells celebrated at Tavern on the Green, where fake diamonds were scattered across cocktail tables and partygoers sipped flutes of champagne.

Hudgens, who makes her Broadway debut in the show, couldn’t be happier to be reinventing this character and bringing a piece of herself to the role. “At the end of the day it’s a timeless love story,” she says. “My friends who have seen the show say Gigi is Vanessa on her happiest day. It’s definitely me. I get to be happy every day.”