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Mario Fratti - Playwright, Drama Critic, Man About Town, Writer of the Broadway Musical, Nine
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By Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
May 5, 2003
Originally Published on

This is a conversation with Mario Fratti, with whom I visited, along with Robert Abrams, in Mario's fascinating apartment on West 55th Street, recently, where one can see dozens of awards, certificates, film and theatrical posters, autographed books and photographs, comfortable furniture, and Mario himself, a dynamic and articulate figure, experienced in many languages, travel, the arts, and women. Mario loves women and writes about women. (Read Six Passionate Women, 1977, Samuel French, Inc.) In fact, he is good friends with Katherine Hepburn and the Italian filmmaker, Federico Fellini, whose film 8 1/2 was the inspiration of Fratti's play, Nine, which premiered in 1982. Mario Fratti is the subject of this Inside Perspective.

REZ - Mario, which magazines do you write for?

MF - I'm a drama critic for Oggi, an Italian newspaper, and for magazines in Milano and Rome.

REZ - Mario, where in Italy did you grow up?

MF - L'Aquila and then moved to Venice. I hold a PhD in Linguistics, as I'm in love with dialogue. I won 33 literary contests, during my 15 years in Venice. Nine is about Venetian life. My plays are 1/3 autobiography, 1/3 reality, and 1/3 imagination. So, Nine is 1/3 autobiographical.

REZ - What is the relationship of Nine to 8 1/2? *

MF - I met Fellini, and I wrote a play about the life of Fellini. Ed Kleban, the lyricist of Chorus Line, said, "Mario, this play is a musical". I worked on it for 7 years with Maury Yeston, a composer and teacher at Yale. Then, we won the Eugene O'Neill and Richard Rodgers Awards, and it became Nine. In 1981, at the O'Neill Foundation, in Connecticut, Katherine Hepburn came to see the play and loved it. She said, "Mario and Maury wrote a masterpiece". So, Katherine wrote to Fellini and asked him to let us do the play on Broadway.

Yeston asked four Directors in town, and they all said, "Too risky". This play was the life of Mastroianni, the life of Fellini, and the story of Casanova. I read the bio of Tommy Tune, whom I then met at Sardi's, I gave him the script, and in 24 hours he called me and said, "I'll do it". Seven years of suffering, and in 24 hours he said, "Yes". We opened on Broadway in 1982 and played for two years.

REZ - Why is this play suddenly revived now?

MF - Maury Yeston and I saw the production of Nine directed by David Leveaux in London. It was great. Leveaux found Banderas. The collaboration with Arthur Kopit came at the end, when he added new elements and a new scene. Now, it's a musical by Yeston, Fratti, and Kopit. Music and Lyrics by Yeston, and Adaptation by Mario Fratti. No Italian was involved.

One hour ago, Nine won the Outer Critics Circle Award! It won Best Musical and Best Actors (Jane Krakowski and Antonio Banderas).

REZ - Where do they receive the Award?

MF - May 29, at Sardi's.

REZ - How is the new production different?

MF - The script is the same, the music is the same, but the choreography and sets are different. There are three new beautiful surprises: A Gift from Heaven (a woman comes down from heaven), water from the Gran Canal, and a Tango, with Chita Rivera and Banderas, with a combination of music from Argentina and Yeston.

REZ - How many languages do you speak? You're answering such complicated questions in perfect English.

MF - I spoke six languages as a child. Now, my passion is languages. Passion comes from the Italian, patire - to suffer. I write in English, Nine too, from A to Z.

REZ - Tell me about your new projects. **

MF - I write one play a year. Sometimes within six months, sometimes within six years they 're all performed. Samuel French publishes my plays. I always have a small cast, good story, and unpredictable endings. These are the three important elements. Most of my plays have been published and performed in many languages.

Last week Nine sold 101%, which includes standing room. I hope it will last two years. The composer hopes for more years.

* Watch for upcoming review of the Broadway show, Nine.

** Mario Fratti has been commissioned to write a play about the life of Puccini.

Mario Fratti in his apartment with theatre trophies.
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower

Mario Fratti and His Posters
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower

Robert and Mario Fratti
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower

Roberta and Mario Fratti
Photo courtesy of Robert Abrams


For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at