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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, July 24, 2014

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In Arts & Entertainment Reviews

Marilyn White and Liz Mistele as Mamita and Gigi in Off The Wall Theatre's production of "Gigi."

Off The Wall's "Gigi" misses the mark


"Gigi," the marvelous movie musical by Lerner and Loewe that opened this weekend at the tiny Off The Wall Theatre, is a three-person show, even though there are plenty of other characters.

The three roles that carry this show are Gigi, the young girl being raised to be a courtesan who grows into a woman before our very eyes; Honore, the suave, debonair, experienced old man who still has an eye and a lust for beautiful women; and Gaston, the young playboy who surprisingly finds his heart being won by Gigi.

If you've got Gigi, Honore and Gaston, you've got a show. If not, then you are in trouble, despite having a story and a score that is in rarefied air.

Unfortunately for Off The Wall, the three main characters are all found wanting, and it makes for an uncomfortable evening of theater. It's important to understand that Lerner and Loewe created "Gigi" as a film, and it was a failure as a Broadway play and has rarely translated well to the stage.

Let's start with Gigi, played by Liz Mistele, who earlier this year did a wonderful turn as a crazy medium in "Blithe Spirit" at Soulstice Theatre. Unfortunately, the same crazed mugging character showed up dressed as Gigi in this production.

If there is anything about Gigi that stands out it's that she has a quiet curiosity about life. She is a teen teetering toward womanhood. Even as a teen she has a grace about her, and it is clear that all she needs is time to become an object of desire.

Mistele gives us a girl who acts like she's stuck in second grade and gets angry when someone takes her dolls away. Mistele needs to find a way to dial back the intensity of her performance. If we can't see a glimpse of what Gigi will become when she grows up, we won't believe it when it happens. When she puts on her white sheath for her bow as a bride-to-be, Mistele looks marvelous, but it's hard to believe how this happened.

Mistele has a thin and reedy voice, which is fine on some occasions but is found wanting in others.

Gaston is the character with the most breadth in this musical. He starts out as a bored playboy, hopping from bed to bed and beauty to beauty while the gossip columns chart his every adventure. Gradually he loses his heart to Gigi and after several false starts, wins her heart as well in the end.

From Gaston we need to see the dissolution that envelops his very soul. He needs to show us a sadness underneath the gaiety of his partying. There must be a reason why he lives his life the way he does.

Gaston is played by Jeremy C. Welter, who earlier this year directed a magnificent production of "Trainspotting." As Gaston he misses the mark almost entirely, giving us the same character from start to finish. Part of his problem is that he must think he's playing in a theater with 2,000 seats. He is so loud that you begin to wonder where the ear plugs might be. Off The Wall is an intimate space that allows for great subtlety and variety. Welter, who sings with some delight, matches Mistele mug for mug and needs to find the same dial-back she is searching for.

And finally, there is Honore, one of the most charming and warm characters in the world of musicals. He is a man who has seen and done it all, with grace and good humor, and intends to continue to do it and see it all again until they carry him off.

Karl Miller, a regular at Off The Wall, takes a turn as Honore and turns him into something that is barely recognizable, much less lovable.

Somewhere along the line, Miller thought that the way to portray suave and debonair was to play the role with eyes half shut. Instead of suave, he looks and acts like a sleazy old man, the absolute opposite of what the character is supposed to be.

Honore demands grace and Miller makes him clunky. Honore demands gentle humor and Miller makes him snarky. Honore demands smooth and Miller gives us obvious.

He has some of the greatest songs of the evening, including "Thank Heaven For Little Girls" and the wonderful duet "I Remember It Well." Miller opened with "Thank Heaven" and was behind the music by a beat throughout the entire song. When it came time for the romantic duet with Gigi's grandmother, Miller forgot the words, put others in the wrong place and upset both his performance and that of Marilyn White, who struggled to keep the song on track.

Put it all together and you have a musical with great music but such uneven performances that when you hear a song like "The Night They Invented Champagne," you wish they would let you sample an entire bottle.


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