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A CurtainUp DC DC Logo Review

by Rich See

What's a good thing for, if not taking it to excess?
---Guido Contini

Only You
(Photo: Amanda Williams)
Mixing Fellini-esque film with musical numbers, Landless Theatre has created a multi-media show in their DC premiere of the Broadway hit musical Nine. Using just a piano and percussion ensemble, the small company does an admirable job of bringing the music and the emotion to life. Purposely choosing to stage it at Gala Hispanic Theatre's space at the Tivoli -- as a sort of homage to the Latin heritage of the play -- the company seems to have stepped up to the next level of producing in a very short time.

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.

Book by Arthur Kopit
Lyrics and music Maury Yeston
Adaptation from the Italian by Mario Fratti based on Fellini's 8 1/2
Co-Directed by: Asha Srinivasan and Andrew Lloyd Baughman
with Andrew Lloyd Baughman, Lucien Joy, Julie Herber, Jen Morris, Jessica Tanenhaus, Shelby Sours, Ally Jenkins, Kathleen Gonzales, Casie Platt, Caroline Cash, Ashley Hall, Mary Idone, Karissa Swanigan, Sarah McKnight, Jill Vanderweit, Alexander Rosenberg, Max Rosenberg, Keanu Ross-Cabrera, Christopher Jones
Film Director: Hilarey Kirsner
Choreographer: Julie Herber
Lighting Designer: Jon Lawniczak
Running Time: 2 hour and 20 minutes with one intermission
A production of Landless Theatre
Gala Hispanic Theatre at Tivoli, 3333 14th St NW
Telephone: 301--639-5265
FRI - SAT @8, SUN @2; $20
Opening 03/18/05, closing 04/17/05
Reviewed by Rich See based on 03/19/05 performance
Musical Numbers
Act I

Spa music/Company
Not Since Chaplin/Company
Guido's Song /Guido and Company
My Husband Makes Movies/Luisa
A Call From the Vatican /Carla
Only With You /Guido
The Script/Guido
Folies Bergères /Liliane LaFleur, Stephanie Necrophorus and Company
Nine /Guido's Mother and Company
Ti Voglio Bene -- Be Italian/Saraghina
The Bells of St. Sebastian/Guido and Company

Act II

A Man Like You/Claudia and Guido
Unusual Way/Claudia and Guido
Contini Submits/Guido
The Grand Canal/Guido and Company
Every Girl In Venice/Company
Only You/Guido and Company
Finale/Guido and Company
Be On Your Own/Luisa
I Can't Make This Movie/Guido
Getting Tall/Little Guido
Reprises/Guido and Company
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