Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Nine: The Musical"

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note: entire contents copyright 2009 by Carl A. Rossi

"NINE: THE MUSICAL"

book by Arthur Kopit; music and lyrics by Maury Yeston

based on Federico Fellini’s film “8½”

directed by Kevin Mark Kline

musical direction by Julia Scott Carey

choreography by Matthew Romero

Guido … Anthony Mullin
Guido at an early age … Bryan Sabbag
Luisa Contini … Shannon Mühs
Carla Albanese … Fran Betlyon
Claudia Nardi … Eliza Xenakis
Guido’s Mother … Amy DeMarco
Liliane LaFleur … Janet Ferreri
Stephanie Necrophorus/Lina Darling … Jennifer Bubriski
Our Lady of the Spa … Christyn M. Schroeder
Mama Maddelena … Shonna McEachern
Sarraghina … Katie Pickett
Maria … Kate Parker
Annabella … Melissa Bisso
Diana … Siobhaun Maus
Olga Von Sturm … Katherine Drexel
Heidi Von Sturm … Penny Hansen
Young Guido’s Schoolmates … Samuel Fidler; Matthew Milton

ORCHESTRA:
Conductor … Julia Scott Carey
Piano … Karin Denison
Violin … Hana Asazuma-Cheng; Mabel Chan; Anand Jagannath
Viola … Jon Epstein
Cello … Marc Pasciucco
Bass … Ben Davenny
Flute … Jen Morse
Reeds … Andy Bergman
French Horn … Ami Fields; Marina Krickler
Trumpet … Carl S. McGrier II
Percussion … Jeremy Lang; Brian O’Neill; Jeremy Nimmer

NINE: THE MUSICAL, performed by The Longwood Players at the Cambridge YMCA, is a musicalization of Federico Fellini’s 8½, his 1963 film à clef about Guido Contini, a celebrated Italian film director suffering from a mid-life crisis and an artistic mental block. Librettist Arthur Kopit extracts one of the film’s episodes --- the celebrated dream sequence where the women throughout Guido’s life are brought together to coddle and combat him --- and sets it at a Venetian spa where Guido goes to cool his kindled nerves (“8½” is supposedly the number of films Mr. Fellini had made up to 1963; NINE takes its title from a key song in the show). Apart from the boy-Guido and his schoolmates, the mature Guido is the sole male on a stage rich with women; since Mr. Kopit removed the other male characters who represent Guido’s creative life, NINE becomes a one-note study of a frustrated Casanova rather than an artist ever-shifting between fantasy and reality. Maury Yeston’s complex score may not match Nino Rota’s raffish soundtrack, but it works well within the confines of the show; if Guido now registers as a blank Everyman, the Messrs. Kopit and Yeston compensate with a gallery of female turns; just as Guido gazes upon his wife, his mother, his mistress, etc., the audience becomes Guido-like, themselves, gazing upon the actresses portraying them --- thus, Act One is marvelous with its “who’s next?” air; Act Two, which must gather these varied blooms into a sensible bouquet, threatens to devour itself, leaving behind an anti-hero who has neither grown nor budged an inch.

On the night I attended, so early in the run, Anthony Mullin’s voice was strained to the pitch of hoarseness, forcing him to shout his lyrics, throughout --- may he be in better voice for you because, otherwise, his Guido is a nimble and mercurial characterization, even dashing, when needed. The female ensemble, overall, is luscious in their various sizes, shapes and temperaments, and Ian Flynn has draped each and every woman imaginatively and uniquely as well as economically from basic black to silver or gold lamé (kudos to whomever did the various hairdos, as well). Janet Ferreri is becoming one of my favorite non-Equity actresses, and she continues to surprise me with her casting-gambles: I would never have thought her a Liliane LaFleur in “Follies Bergeres” but once Ms. Ferreri shed her haute couture to reveal knock-out gams in shiny nylons, I knew all would be well --- and she stopped the show to banter enchantingly with her audience in the Follies manner --- amused and worldly. My favorite number “Be Italian” was heartily pulled off by Katie Pickett, though the correct staging would have had everyone with tambourines instead of just earth mother, man, and boys. The evening’s stunner is Eliza Xenakis as Claudia, the muse-mistress: tall, leggy and groomed to the nth degree, Ms. Xenakis lovingly --- woundingly --- shapes each line of “A Man Like You / Unusual Way” to make it NINE’s true emotional center. Claudia doesn’t come to the fore until Act Two but in Ms. Xenakis’ hands, she earns her place, at the end, to stand with her back turned to Guido alongside his wife and mistress.

The evening’s temperature was summery warm with only electric fans to cool the YMCA hall at intermission, making this NINE a steambath instead of a spa --- but, oh, Mr. Mullin and his women who must wear black under stage lights for most of those two hours and thirty minutes…

"Nine: The Musical" (24 April - 2 May)
THE LONGWOOD PLAYERS
Cambridge Family YMCA, 820 Massachusetts Avenue, CAMBRIDGE, MA
1 (800) 595-4TIX

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