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A CurtainUp Review
Nine the Musical

The Cast Changes -- But the Show Goes On
By Elyse Sommer
Eartha Kitt
Eartha Kitt as the flamboyant Liliane La Fleur
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
No sooner does a Broadway show bask in the sweet smell of success than the question of how best to fill the shoes of departing actors arises. Case in point: the revival of the musical Nine, about a famous movie director whose approaching fortieth birthday sends him into an emotional tailspin that threatens to destroy his personal and professional life. With the charismatic Antonio Banderas as well as a number of other key players turning over their roles to a new cast, the show now faces that all important Stage II of its life when the changing of the guard determines whether it can join the ranks of enduring hits which are rejuvenated rather than diminished by an ongoing parade of new actors.

The revival of Nine owed much of its almost instant hit status to Antonio Banderas whose acting and singing talent plus good looks made for an ideal, matinee idol sort of Guido Contini. Women may consider themselves too smart to fall all over themselves for the affection of a man who loves them all but can't be true to any of them -- but along comes a magnetic charmer like the handsome, curly-haired Banderas to play the troubled movie director and it all becomes it all believable.

So now we have John Stamos playing his meatiest Broadway role so far. He is not new to replacing hard-to-match stars. Having followed Matthew Broderick in How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1997) he further established a Broadway presence as one of countless Emcees in Cabaret (Summer 2002).

So as our former Mayor Ed Koch would ask, how's he doing as Guido? Simply put, his Guido doesn't pose a threat to Banderas' special status as the creator of this production's superstar Guido. Like Banderas, Stamos is darkly attractive. However, with his heavily pomaded hair he looks a little too slick to project the boyish vulnerability that made Banderas so convincingly irresistible. His accent is understandably more studied and he seems to push too hard for laughs. Still he acts and sings well and he does win you over as the show progresses so that those who saw Banderas will be less inclined to make unfavorable comparisons. The actor's familiarity to television audiences in such roles as Uncle Jesse in Full House and the occasional drummer in the made-for TV movie about the Beach Boys should attract a whole new audience.

I purposely invited a guest who did not see Nine before this but knew Stamos from the small screen. Thus, unlike me, she had no preconceived notions about an Ideal Guido. Most importantly, she loved the show -- the story as well the rich tuneful yet almost operatic music which gets better each time you hear it.

Causing the most buzz among the new cast members, besides Stamos, is the new Liliane Le Fleur. Eartha Kitt like Chita Rivera is a legendary septuagenarian. Like her predecessor she clearly loves being on stage -- especially when sporting a black corset outfit. Her unique purring voice and very authentic French accent make for a splendid The Script and Follies Bergeres.

Two of the young women " La-la-la-ing" over Guido, his muse Claudia and his mistress Carla are now played by Rebecca Luker and former understudy Sara Gettelfinger. The Claudia role always seemsed to beg for more than one solo, but Luker's lovely soprano makes the most of what's given her. Gettelfinger, a redhead as tall as the sexy Ulla of The Producers still makes a drop-dead, drop-down entry for "The Call From the Vatican." Like Stamos she projects less vulnerability than her predecessor, but the difference works because she seems completely at home in her own version of the role.

Marni Nixon who got to sing too little in The Dead and was kept behind scenes too long as "The Voice of Hollywood" ( See our feature on her one-woman memoir show), is fine as Guido's mother. She gamely navigates that reach for the heavens circular staircase almost more often then the younger members of the cast.

The most seamless change of actors comes from Daniel Manche as young Guido. Like his predecessor, William Ullrich, this pint-sized charmer wins you over whether shadowing the man he becomes, doing a somersault, or singing his big solo, "Getting Tall." As before, he alternates with another young actor (Evan Daves, also new to the show).

There are no signs of weariness on the part of the actors who've been with the show since the beginning. Mary Stuart Masterson has, if anything, deepened her portrayal of Luisa, especially her marvelous rendition of "My Husband Makes Movies." To sum up, the real star -- the show itself-- is alive and well and still one of the best musicals on the Rialto.

The asterisks before the names in the cast list below indicate replacements which include some ensemble members. All others are holdovers from the production, a review of which follows this box. Cast: *John Stamos/Guido Contini, *Rebecca Luker/Claudia, Luisa, Mary Stuart Masterson, *Sara Gettelfinger/Carla, *Eartha Kitt/Liliane LaFleur
With: Nell Campbell/Lina Darling;,Rachel deBenedet/Diana; Rona Figueroa/Juliette; Christine Arand/Maria; *Jacqueline/Our Lady of the Spa; Kristin Marks/Annabella; *Farah Alvin/Olga von Sturm; *Marni Nixon/Guido's Mother; Saundra Santiago/Stephanie Necrophorus; *Nikki Renee Daniels/Renata; Myra Lucretia Taylor/Saraghina; *Jessica Leigh Brown/Sofia;*Daniel Manche//Little Guido (*Evan Daves, alternative Little Guido) The show will close 12/14/03 -- after 285 regular performances and 23 previews

---Review of the Show When It Opened in April 2003 ---
The thing about Guido -- he makes you feel you're the only woman who exists
--- one of the chorus of women who parade through Guido's troubled mind.
A little boy clambers up on the stage, casting a shadow on the white and silver screen. That screen serves as the curtain of the Roundabout Theatre Company's revival of for the 1982 musical, Nine. It's an apt metaphor for the musical inspired by Federico Fellini's surrealistic film classic 8 1/2 about a film director immobilized by a midlife crisis. The boy's obvious eagerness to see what's behind that curtain is catching.

As the screen-curtain rises, the boy cedes the stage to a man seated at a large oval table, a chorus of beautiful women -- tall, short, young, not so young -- descend a narrow circular staircase that almost rivals the one in Man of La Mancha. Their talk about Guido turns into the La-la-la-ing "Overture Delle Donne ", the opening salvo of composer-lyricist Maury Yeston's rich and diverse score.

It takes just a few minutes to realize that this chorus has been summoned from inside the head of the man at the table in order to examine his past and present relationships with women as his" body's clearing 40" and his mind "is nearing 10." The plot is slight enough to easily boil down to two sentences: Guido is stalemated in his personal and professional life, unable to commit fully to a relationship or summon the creative energy to make his next movie -- a psychological omen of his mortality. This leads to disorienting fantasies (including suicide) from which he's rescued by his nine-year-old alter ego.

Despite its Tony for Best Musical of 1982 (as well as Best Score, Best Featured Actress, Best Costume), it's taken Nine more than twenty years to return to Broadway, unlike Gypsy, which recently began previews for its fourth Broadway revival in the theater right next door. The initial production's substantial run at the Forty-Sixth Street Theater (729 performances) and awards came in spite of less than uniform audience response and a good deal of critical finger pointing at Arthur Kopit's failure to create a book that was warm as well as stylish and with an irresistibly compelling central character.

Like the Roundabout's long-running revival of Cabaret, this new Nine originated at London's Donmar Warehouse (1996-97). It wasn't as drastic a re-conception as Cabaret but neither did David Leveaux turn his first outing as a director of a musical into a carbon copy of the Tommy Tune directed original. What he opted for was a cool film noir aura to connect the show more closely to its inspirational source, the Fellini film 8 1/2 (never listed as part of the musical 's program credits at the director's request). The book for Nine actually began with a play about a Fellini-like director which was penned by Mario Fratti, whose credit in the current and original Nine program reads "adapted from the Italian." (For a review of that play, Six Passionate Women, during an Off-Off-Broadway run several seasons ago go here).

Now, seven years after the Donmar revival, Leveaux has brought Nine to Broadway but with only one member of the London team, choreographer Jonathan Butterell. A bit too moody and slow in spots, this Nine is hardly flawless and more than likely to have musical aficionados busily comparing Tommy Tune's and Leveaux's version. Yet this is a classy, sophisticated production and the enduring charms of Maury Yeston's music make it a must-see or must-see-again for all musical theater fans.

Yeston's score is a melodic mix of musical genres -- razz-ma-tazz show biz numbers ("Follies Bergeres "), solo ballads ("My Husband") and duets ("Unusual Way") as well as a whole comic opera sequence (the superb "Grand Canal "). Jonathan Tunick's orchestrations for the larger orchestra of the work well for Kevin Stites and his fifteen musicians.

With his dark and still boyish matinee idol good looks, Antonio Banderas is a charismatic Guido. Though his experience is chiefly as a film actor, he appears completely at ease on stage. His acting is especially good when, before the somewhat unconvincingly sudden cathartic ending, he curls up on in a fetal position on the now tilted table. No complaints about his singing either. It confirms the promise of Banderas' only other singing role as Che in the film adaptation of Evita.

In addition to the central prop -- the lucite table, and silvery winding staircase with its catwalk extension and panels -- the staging includes a second act with a spectacular Botticelli-like painted backdrop with faces that erupt into tears torrential enough to create an ankle high pool. A nice bit of show biz though a hardship for the performers who must slosh around the pool barefooted.

Ultimately, the scenic props that really matter are the women. They form groups of chattering paparazzi and emerge individually into key figures in the movie of Guido's life: his wife Luisa (Mary Stuart Masterson); his mistress Carla (Jane Krakowski); his erstwhile protege Claudia (Laura Benanti); the former Follies Bergere owner turned film producer Liliane La Fleur (Chita Rivera), who demands to see a script for the movie she commissioned; Saraghina (Myra Lucretia Taylor) who initiates Guido into his hyperactive sex life ("Be Italian"); his mother (Mary Beth Peil) who wanted him to be a priest instead of making films she can't explain to her friends.

Mary Stuart Masterson, best known as a dramatic actress, turns out to be a fine singer. She is a commanding and empathetic as the long-suffering Luisa. You'll want a CD of the show if only to hear her plaintive "My Husband " again. Laura Benanti, whose gorgeous soprano I first admired during the revival of The Sound of Music and again during her recent stint as Cinderella in Into the Woods, here plays the more sophisticated role of the somewhat aloof and elusive Claudia with aplomb. Her duet with Guido at the top of the second act is one of the evening's highlights.

Jane Krakowski gives Carla a Marilyn Monroe-ish sex-kitten vulnerability. Unlike the stately introduction of the women during the overture, Krakowski makes her entrance in a white fabric sling lowered from the ceiling as Guido pretends that he's taking "A Call From The Vatican." Her exit is also a Wow!

For the role of Liliane La Fleur, which won a Tony for Liliane Montevecchi, there's the ever vibrant Chita Rivera. Nothing cool about this Broadway grand dame! Notwithstanding an unflattering if authentically 60s hairdo and a not much better outfit, Rivera is a flamboyant La Fleur who obviously relishes being on stage. Her tango with Guido is a show stopper. The rest of the choreography is of the dance movement variety.

Myra Lucretia Taylor is a powerful singer but her Saraghina's "Be Italian" could use a bit more subtlety. Mary Beth Peil brings a nice sense of comedy as well as elegance and a beautiful voice to the role of Guido's Mama. Deidre Goodwin has good physical presence as the narrating Our Lady of the Spa though, like Rivera, she must overcome an unfortunate costume -- in this case one that looks like something borrowed from The Lion King or Aida..

Given the size of the ensemble I'll fast forward with a general round of applause to the hard-working cast (all that up and down the steps--whew!), but end with a special bravo for nine-year-old William Ullrich. He's adorable as young Guido without being cloying. Whether doing a somersault or singing his touching solo, "Getting Tall." this terrific young actor is utterly believable as the boy who will become the conflicted director. Here's hoping enough people respond to the show's noirish glamour, for Ullrich as well as ten-year-old Anthony Colangelo, who plays young Guido on Wednesday and Saturday matinees, to outgrow their roles.

While it took Nine a long time to make a Broadway comeback, there have been numerous regional productions, including the Los Angeles Chance Company's production, a review of which can be read here.

Book by Arthur Kopit
Music and lyrics by Maury Yeston
Adaptation from the Italian by Mario Fratti
Directed by David Leveaux
Music Direction by Kevin Stites
Cast: Antonio Banderas/Guido Contini; Laura Benanti/Claudia; Jane Krakowski/ Carla; Luisa/ Mary Stuart Masterson/; Chita Rivera/Liliane LaFleur
With: Nell Campbell/Lina Darling;, Rachel deBenedet/Diana, Rona Figueroa/Juliette; Sara Gettelfinger/Maria;Deidre Goodwin/Our Lady of the Spa; Kristin Marks/Annabella; Linda Mugleston/Olga von Sturm; Mary Beth Peil/Guido's Mother; Saundra Santiago/Stephanie Necrophorus, Elena Shaddow/Renata; Myra Lucretia Taylor/Saraghina; Kathy Voytko/Sofia;William Ulrich/Little Guido (Anthony Colangelo on Wed & Sat matinees)

Set Design: Scott Pask
Costume Design: Vicki Mortimer
Lighting Design: Brian MacDevitt
Sound Design: Jon Weston
Special Effects: Gregory Meeh
Orchestrations: Jonathan Tunick
Music Coordinator: John Miller
Dialect Coach: Kate Wilson
Hair Design: David Brian Brown
Maekup: Naomi Donne
Running time: 2 1/2 hours, includes one 15-minute intermission
Roundabout Theater at Eugene O'Neil Theatre, 230 W. 49th St., (Broadway/8th Av), 212/239-6200
3/21/03-6/29/03-- extend to 8/10/03; opening 4/10/03. Tuesday - Saturday @8PM, Wednesday & Saturday @2PM, Sunday @2PM-- $50-$100
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on April 4th press performance

Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Overture Delle Donne/Company
  • ---Spa music
  • ---Not Since Chaplin
  • Guido's Song /Guido
  • ---Coda di Guido/Company
  • My Husband Makes Movies/Luisa
  • A Call From the Vatican /Carla
  • Only With You /Guido
  • The Script/Guido
  • Folies Bergères /La Fleur, Necrophorus and Company
  • Nine /Guido's Mother and Company
  • Ti Voglio Bene---Be Italian/Saraghina, Little Guido and Company
  • The Bells of St. Sebastian/Guido, Little Guido and Company
Act Two
  • A Man Like You---Unusual Way/Duet/ Claudia and Guido
  • The Grand Canal/Guido and Company
  • ---Contini Submits--The Grand Canal
  • ---Every Girl In Venice
  • ---Recitation--Armour--Recitativo
  • ---Only You--Finale
  • Simple/Carla
  • Be On Your Own/Luisa
  • Waltz di Guido/Guido
  • I Can't Make This Movie/Guido
  • Getting Tall/Little Guido.
  • Reprises: My Husband Makes Movies--Nine/Guido

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