October 8 , 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 23  

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The Stratford Festival lacks erotic elements

By Antonio Tan
Gazette Writer

SOPHISTICATED, YES; EROTIC, NOT QUITE. James Blendick, Domini Blythe, Jennifer Gould and Dan Chameroy star in Gigi, a Lerner and Loewe musical which touches on Parisian pedophiles.

Musicals tend to draw the largest crowds at the Stratford Festival of Canada, despite its reputation as a specialist in the works of William Shakespeare.

Indeed, the festival has come a long way since it first opened in 1953. In recent years, under Richard Monette's reign as artistic director, the Broadway musical has made Stratford the target of critics for selling out to commercialism. You can't blame Stratford for wanting to make a little cash on the side, as long as they put on good productions. However, that can't be said of this season's musical theatre selections.

The King and I
The Festival Theatre

At the Festival Theatre, Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I, their 1951 musical about Anna Leonowens, tells the story of an English school teacher in the court of Siam and her tumultuous relationship with the King.

While the production has an impressive stage design (costumes by Roger Kirk, sets by Debra Hanson), the overall performance is missing a few key elements.

Lucy Peacock as Anna is fine (with the exception of her thin raspy voice), as well as Victor Talmadge as the King, playing his role quite differently than what we'd expect; he's calm and sophisticated not barbaric like Yul Brynner's often-imitated portrayal.

However, if there is one thing that must exist in a production of The King and I, it's the erotic tension between Anna and the King. That is what's missing here.

When the show reaches that erotically-charged moment when the King asks Anna to dance in "Shall We Dance," you can't help but realize there's been little to substantiate any romantic feelings between the two.

This is where Susan H. Schulman's sumptuous production falters.

But the glorious and memorable score is still there - performed beautifully - and that's mainly what makes this King and I still worthy to see.

The Avon Theatre

Over at the Avon Theatre is the Lerner and Loewe musical, Gigi, about a young girl who tames the heart of a Parisian bachelor named Gaston. Best known as the 1958 Academy Award-winning film, Gigi was eventually turned into a Broadway musical in 1973, but was a flop with audiences and critics.

As anyone could possibly guess after hearing the famous opening number "Thank Heaven for Little Girls," the show was fashioned to make the pedophilic insatiability of the Parisians in 1901 look charming (they never mention Gigi's age, but the educated guess is she's 15).

Jennifer Gould is sweet as the title character, James Blendick does a good Maurice Chevalier impression as Honoré (who performs the opening number) and Dan Chameroy is a little flighty as Gaston.

The songs are of the usual Lerner and Loewe standard, with witty lyrics and memorable music, but it has shades of My Fair Lady throughout. "The Night They Invented Champagne" is Gigi's version of "The Rain In Spain" and the title song is its version of "I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face."

Richard Monette directs this production rather poorly. It's cartoonish, gimmicky and aims for cheap laughs. For example, a screeching cat causes a fit of allergic reaction and Honoré slurps on mussels while uttering a speech to Gaston, distracting the audience from paying attention to what he's actually saying.

Monette's been condemned for this before and he obviously hasn't listened.

The King and I continues until Nov. 23 at The Festival Theatre and Gigi continues until Nov. 1 at The Avon Theatre. For tickets, call 1-800-567-1600.



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