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CurtainUp DC Review
by Rich See
Written by Arthur Kopit, Nine is based upon Fellini's film 8 1/2. It follows the story of a director on the eve of his fortieth birthday who is still a nine year old boy at heart. As he looks to the women in his life to be his anchor, he dashes about playing the field and making films. Never truly taking any of them seriously, he's just a boy having a good time until he finally faces himself and his life. The lyrics and music by Maury Yeston are complex and lovely. The recent Broadway hit debuted with Antonio Banderas as Guido Contini, the Italian film director seemingly with a woman in every room at an exclusive spa in Venice where the action of the story takes place.
Co-directors Asha Srinivasan and Andrew Lloyd Baughman specifically sought to incorporate a film concept into the musical because they had never seen a production that was influenced by Fellini's film. To this end they brought in film director Hilarey Kirsner. All in all, the effect works quite well. As Guido Contini worries about his blocked creativity, fantasy sequences flash across the screen of women in flowing white gowns, children emerging from Catholic school, an actress in a TV commercial explaining the spa's amenities. At one point Contini (played by Baughman) sings a duet with himself, which is quite fun.
The co-directors have also paced the production very well. It never lags and seems to build up speed as the story progresses, which is good since Guido's producer has given him just a day to come up with a script, cast, and location for a film he has promised her. If he doesn't show her the goods, she is planning on removing his goods, which happen to be a very tender portion of his anatomy between his legs.
Additionally, the costumes and staging are very simple, comprised mainly of a variety black outfits accessorized with a dash of red and chairs placed in a semi-circle on the stage. Each chair is for a specific woman and has a certain distinction that speaks to her character. While Contini's wife sits in a director's chair, his mother inhabits a rocking chair. His producer Liliane LaFleur occupies a French divan as Saraghina the whore slouches in a leopard spotted arm chair. Carla his mistress straddles a bar chair and Claudia Nardi his screen mate perches atop a crate. The trio of reporters share a school bench and the German spa sisters sit in wicker thrones.
Choreographer Julie Herber has created a variety of dance sequences -- some of them complex for the trained dancers in the cast and some of them seemingly incorporating the other members' limited dance skills. Which by the way seems to be the trademark of the production. Landless has used the strengths of its regular company members and added to the mix. New faces and old faces -- it's nice.
Designer Jon Lawniczak's lighting is subtle and uses a number of solo spots. The lighting is dim but not dark for the film portions which are intermittently spliced through the production. Some of the lighting seemed a little off on the performance I saw, but I think things will settle as the run moves along.
As Guido Contini, Andrew Lloyd Baughman brings a debonair quality to the director that is mixed with a bit of wrinkled unkemptness. He's likeable by both sexes, believable as being silly, and it's easy to see how he could be so foolishly reckless. He keeps your attention focused, which is good since he is in almost every scene. As his distraught wife Luisa, who is planning on divorcing him, Julie Herber is appropriately distant, removed, and a bit bored. Her rendition of "My Husband Makes Movies" showcases all of her emotions for Guido -- the love, the resignation, the sadness. The chemistry between the two though, perhaps, could be a little warmer. They look like two people on the verge of divorce, so any eventual reconciliation seems slightly strained. Which perhaps is more believable than seeing them run wildly into each other's arms.
As vivacious and randy Carla Albanese, Guido's mistress, Jen Morris gives two extremely well done performances. First in "A Call From the Vatican " and then in "Simple." She looks like she is having a good time and the audience responds. Guido's other woman, Claudia Nardi, is played by Casie Platt. Ms. Platt and Mr. Baughman do a great job with the duet "Unusual Way" and show a chemistry that is believable when Guido tells Claudia that he loves her.
Jessica Tanenhaus adds humor to the proceedings as Guido's confused mother. "Where did she go wrong?" she keeps lamenting and then decides it must have happened when Guido was in Catholic school and "tainted" by his association with a wanton woman. As the wanton woman Saraghina -- and the other side of Guido's Madonna-Whore complex -- Caroline Cash gives a robust performance with a mischievous grin.
In the most humorous role, Ally Jenkins goes over the top as Guido's producer, Liliane LaFleur. Ms. Jenkins brings out the humor in the larger-than-life character and assisted by Lina Darling, her gun-toting maul (played in an appropriately heavy-handed way by Kathleen Gonzales), Ms. Jenkins makes up for the other's silence with the ultra-thick French accent she employs. Like Ms. Cash, she adds a bit of comic glimmer to the night.
Shelby Sours is uptight film critic Stephanie Necrophorus and shines during Guido's hallucinated death scene. As Little Guido at age nine, Lucien Joy scampers around the stage, always present, like an archetypal energy that runs through Guido's life unchecked and controlling everything he does. He gives a heartfelt goodbye to Guido in "Getting Tall."
Filling out the cast are: Sarah McKnight and Jill Vanderweit as Olga and Heidi von Strum the German spa clients; Ashley Hall, Mary Idone, and Karissa Swanigan as the ladies of the spa; and Alexander Rosenberg, Max Rosenberg, Keanu Ross-Cabrera and Christopher Jones as the boys who appear in the film sequences.
All in all, Landless Theatre creates an enjoyable Nine which showcases the musical's great songs and music. The Tivoli is a terrific space for the show, although the seats are oddly squeezed in, so if you have long legs sit along the aisle. Otherwise, go, enjoy and have spa night...
To read the review of the Broadway production go here.
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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