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CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
by Joseph Sirota
Here's an intriguing theatrical recipe. Take one part Fellini, a director whose films and style were so dazzlingly surreal and dreamlike and yet hauntingly captured the human condition that Fellini-esque became a cinematic adjective. Now, mix with an equal part of Broadway musical, a genre that also eschews linearity and reserves the right to break into song, dance or as-needed choruses to tell its tale. Combine lovingly in a live theater format. What do you get?
Well, in 1982, with a clever book by Arthur Kopit and pleasing music by Maury Yeston, you got aNine, a musical adaptation of Fellini's legendary 8-1/2. And it turned out to be a tasty (and different) enough collaboration to garner 12 Tony nominations and win the Tony for Best Musical. Now, 20 years later the show is being served up live and hot at Anaheim Hill's Chance Theater in Orange County. And, it's again, a refreshing combination of humor, poignancy and sensuality.
Fellini's original self-revealing movie-within-a-movie concept translates well to the live stage. Troubled anti-hero, Guido Contini, is an Italian film director, who at 40 is hailed as the best, yet can't seem to find his creative muse anymore. This midlife crisis is fueled by endless distractions of his decadent lifestyle. Pressures of everyone looking to him, depending on him, demanding of him to supply the magic weigh heavily on Guido. And there's an angry female producer backing his upcoming new film who wants results -- now! With Guido's last three films having flopped, and every woman in his Casanova-ish life (wife, mistress, leading lady, departed-mother, fans, critics) pulling him in different directions, Guido is one worried auteur. Like a top gunfighter who's lost his sense of invulnerability, Guido is shaking in his maestro boots.
Under whimsical, inventive direction/choreography by Martie Ramm, the show nicely juxtaposes bawdy fun with piercing self-doubts about life's meaning. Against a versatile minimalist abstract setting of an Italian white tile spa, 13 varied, talented women become an ever-present combination modern Greek chorus, and step out as the key women in Guido's life. This maintains high energy and creates an often funny, kaleidoscopic, sensual human set. There are enough arresting musical numbers to successfully carry the plot forward while showcasing the vocal, movement and acting licks of the large cast. To name just a few musical highlights: "Only With You" "Ti Voglio Benea", "In An Unusual Way", "Simple" and the haunting, "quot;Be On Your Own."
There are hiccups. The insightful flashbacks and dreamy sequences could benefit from more artful segueing effects to heighten the important ethereal elements inherent in reviewing one's life and values. Good-looking star Richard C. Hawkes as Guido carries the heavy load as center of the show's universe well, but stumbles on vocals when reaching for volume or high notes outside his natural range. He would do better easing back from both. He's also not quite armed with Marcello Mastroianni's (8-1/2's Guido) mystical presence and ability to project both paramount solidarity and abject helplessness simultaneously, -- but then again, who is? Overall, Hawkes wins our caring as a not quite bigger-than-life falling idol.
The women in the cast appealingly in bringing their characters to life. Erika Amato, as loyal, loving, disgusted wife Luisa, has a lovely voice and an intense presence. SuzAnne Joy Bradaric is a standout singer/performer, with good comedic chops. Nikka Lanzarone as number one mistress exudes sexuality with delightful side orders of vulnerability and temper. Tamara Davis commands the stage as the fiery French film producer holding Guido's feet to the fire. Erika Ceporius, Guido's touchy leading lady, nicely projects an inner love/self-centered tug-of-war with grace, and convincing song interpretations. Hilary Pingle lights up the stage with earthy abandon.
It's especially nice to find smaller venues, like the aptly named Chance Theater tackle the challenges of as ambitious a production as this. If you can find your way to the 91 Freeway, Chance Theater's Nine is worth the drive. And, since it is being reprised on Broadway next season(starring Antonio Banderas), think of the gas you'll save not having to drive to Manhattan.
This Nine is worth the drive. And, since NINE is being reprised on Broadway next season(starring Antonio Banderas), think of the gas you'll save not having to drive to Manhattan.
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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