Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Nine"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

entire contents copyright 2010 by Tony Annicone


Reviewed by Tony Annicone

Speak Easy Theatre's current show is the Tony Award winning musical "Nine" by Arthur Kopit and Maury Yeston and is based on Federico Fellini's film "8 1/2". The original show opened on Broadway on May 9,1982, running for 729 performances and winning 5 Tony's including best musical while the revival opened April 10,2003, running for 283 performances and winning 2 Tony's including best musical revival."Nine" concerns the travails of Guido Contini, a forty year old Italian movie director and the seventeen women in his life, who first appear as an orchestra he mentally conducts. Guido whose last three films have been flops, is suffering from a mid-life crisis at the worst possible time. He is vacationing at a Venetian spa trying to repair his crumbling marriage to his wife Luisa while there his mistress, Carla also in Venice calls him providing a considerable distraction. Guido is also enamored of his former protege, Claudia Nardi, the actress, and can't decide which of the three women he wants. His demanding Parisian producer, Liliane LaFleur makes matters worse by insisting he create a movie musical for her, even though Contini hasn't the slightest idea yet, for a film. Tormented, Guido is haunted by three earlier moments in his life when as a child of nine, he was fawned over by his mother, introduced to sexuality by the exuberant whore Saraghina and punished at his parochial school for having gone to visit Saraghina on the beach. With Claudia in Venice, Guido is inspired to create a movie based on his life called Casanova. The film rehearsal begins immediately but during it Luisa feels Guido is airing their private life to the world and he also alienates the other 2 women in his life. Abandoned by Luisa, Carla and Claudia and with the film doomed to failure, Contini becomes seriously disoriented and fantasizes suicide. Happily he is saved by the specter of his nine year old self, Little Guido, who urges him to grow up past the age of nine, which Guido finally does. Director Paul Daigneault, music director Nicholas Connell and choreographer David Connolly cast some of the best performers around in these roles and they deliver a sensational Broadway style show for the audience to enjoy.

Paul directs the show wonderfully with his inventive blocking and insight into each of the characters in this show. He uses seven archways with rear projection behind them to change the scenes smoothly from one location to the next. The fountain center stage is filled with water as is the small pool area around it for Guido's baptism into sexuality with Saraghina during that scene in the first act. "The Bells of St. Sebastian" at the end of Act 1 shows how the church destroyed Guido's life at the tender age of nine. This dramatic moment and the one at the end of the show when Little Guido shows more sense than his older self in how to handle life, tugs at your heartstrings. Paul makes the mood sublime and leaves you in tears as all the ladies hug Guido goodbye with Luisa entering after this, staring Guido down while Little Guido finally runs into his mother's arms for the love and protection he needs. Nicholas obtains the best sounding orchestra as well as the most majestic sounding vocals from the cast in Maury Yeston's lush score. The chorus numbers pack a punch with their harmonic beauty and the solo numbers are superb, too. David's dance numbers are spectacular especially the Follies number with the rose colored ostrich feathers, the Germans at the Spa number, the St. Sebastian number and the Grand Canal section. Timothy John Smith tackles the huge role of Guido Contini and makes it his own, giving a gut wrenching, tour-de-force performance. He shows many layers of this character and displays a powerful tenor voice which soars off the charts in "Guido's Song'' while he shows the inner turmoil of Guido in "I Can't Make This Movie". In the "Be Italian" song, Timothy becomes the child of nine vocally and makes it a funny and light hearted moment in his life with both Guidos doing the tambourine with Saraghina . He handles the comic moments beautifully with Carla, Liliane and others as well as the dramatic ones in his argument scenes with Luisa and his confrontation scene with his mother. The romantic "Only With You" is lovely and "The Grand Canal" with the women is triumphant. Timothy's relationship with all the women in the show is fabulous and his relationship with Erik March as Little Guido is heartfelt, warm and convincing, too. I last reviewed Timothy as the dentist last summer in "Little Shop of Horrors" at Theatre by the Sea. Erik has blond hair with an angelic face is only 12 years old and in seventh grade. Erik is dynamite as Little Guido. He keeps you glued to your seat whether he is singing in his fantastic boy soprano voice or acting up a storm in the comic and dramatic parts, staying in character throughout the show. Little Guido conducts the women at the end of the show. (Andrew Stewart alternates as Little Guido.)

Beautiful brunette, Aimee Doherty plays Luisa, the long suffering wife of Guido. She has a gorgeous soprano voice but in this role Aimee shows off her lower register in "My Husband Makes Movies" where Luisa still defends Guido to the nosy, intrusive press and in the show stopping "Be On Your Own" where she knocks the audience out of their seats in this intense dramatic song when she decides to leave Guido at last. Luisa is more of an internalized character and isn't as showy a role as some of the other characters but Aimee's strong portrayal makes her standout in this show.The gorgeous light brunette, McCaela Donovan plays the ultra sexy, Carla. She is not only a beauty but has a tremendous voice to go with it. McCaela's first number, "A Call from the Vatican" is a jazzy, striptease song where she dances around Guido in hardly anything at all. Her second number is the poignant and emotionally charged "Simple" where she realizes that Guido is only using her for her looks, has made fun of her in his Casanova movie, becomes fed up with it and decides to leave him. Another gorgeous brunette, Jennifer Ellis plays Claudia. Her fantastic soprano voice soars in the choral numbers but Jennifer really captures the audience with her solo number, "Unusual Way'' where she explains her infatuation with Guido and is my favorite song in the show. She also shows off her strong acting ability in this wonderful role. When she finally realizes Guido is using Liliane to play her in the Casanova movie and walks out is dramatic as Paul has Carla and Claudia exit on opposite sides of the stage at the end of "Simple". I last reviewed Jennifer six years ago as Belle in "Beauty and the Beast". Claudia is another feather in her cap.

The rest of the ensemble is just as talented as the leading players and their voices blend together beautifully. Cheryl McMahon is topnotch as Guido's mother as she handles the sensitive scenes with little Guido and some humorous ones with Timothy as Guido. Her lovely song "Nine" explains Guido's happiest moments of his life and left me in tears with her poignant rendering of it. Kerry Dowling plays Saraghina, another comic role in this show. Her song "Ti Voglio Bene/Be Italian" is dynamic as she teaches Guido how to seduce a woman in a very amusing way. This song impacted on Guido's view of women and influenced him along the way. Kerry has an awesome soprano voice and she shows off its power in the group numbers, too. Maureen Keiller sparkles as Liliane LaFleur, the French producer who flirts with a man in the audience as well as sings about the wonderful days of "Follies Beregeres" which she belts out to the crowd. She wears a bright red gown in this scene and receives a gift from Little Guido, a long rose colored feather boa delivered by him in a huge gift box. Another comic performance is by Shana Dirik as Mama Maddelena. She has bright red hair, sings and dances in the staccato style number "The Germans at the Spa", doing clever shtick and a comic dance to it. She also plays the courtesan in Casanova which is based on Carla, keeping the audience in stitches with her antics. Kudos to the whole cast and crew who deliver a Broadway style show in the heart of Boston. Be sure to catch, "Nine" because it is the must see show of this winter season.

"Nine" (2 January - 19 February)
@ Boston Center for The Arts, 539 Tremont Street, BOSTON MA

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide