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Nine - The Musical
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Nine - The Musical
- Backstage with the Playwrights

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By Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower

Nine
The Musical

Roundabout Theatre Company
Todd Haimes, Artistic Director
At the
Eugene O'Neill Theatre

Conceived and Originally Written by Mario Fratti,
as a Version of Fellini's 8 1/2
Book by Arthur Kopit
Music and Lyrics by Maury Yeston
Directed by David Leveaux

Starring: Antonio Banderas, Laura Benanti,
Jane Krakowski, Mary Stuart Masterson,
and Chita Rivera

Orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick
Music Direction by Kevin Stites
Choreographed by Jonathan Butterell
Set Design: Scott Pask
Costume Design: Vicki Mortimer
Lighting Design: Brian MacDevitt
Sound Design: Jon Weston
Special Effects: Gregory Meeh
Hair Design: David Brian Brown
Make-up Design: Naomi Dunne
Executive Producer: Sydney Davolos
Press: Boneau/Bryan-Brown

Antonio Banderas and Mario Fratti
Antonio Banderas and Mario Fratti
Photo courtesy of Mario Fratti

Guido Contini, who could be Fellini, or could be Mario Fratti, who originally conceived this masterpiece, in the persona of Antonio Banderas, whom I first saw in the films, Mambo Kings and Evita, who is the object of desire of about a dozen women, including his wife, his lover, his ex-lover, and a variety of Felliniesque nymphs (I must see 8 1/2 again very soon) in black eye-shadow and tantalizing, tight costumes, lives an existential existence, as his mind is cluttered with indecisive thoughts about what to do and with whom. Right up front, I loved this show! Banderas and the entire cast and production staff brilliantly teamed up to give the sold-out, standing room included, audience a professional and first-rate night at the theatre. In fact, in a driving storm, neither wind nor rain kept this international crowd from taking their seats at the historic Eugene O'Neill Theatre.

Guido's challenge is to create a film for his Producer, Liliane La Fleur, the esteemed Chita Rivera, who is timeless and effervescent. She can dance and sing and even chat, informally and endearingly, with the audience, as well as Tango, with her leg up to Mr. Banderas' shoulder. Ms. Rivera formerly trained at the School of American Ballet (See SAB Tour) and has winning charisma and talent. Guido's former lover, Claudia (Laura Benanti) who now resides in Paris, develops the idea for the elusive film – Casanova, Guido's lifestyle. If I've ever seen a 2003 Fellini character, here she was, with the perfect, long, brown hair, teased and brushed, and eyes that have a life of their own.

The story develops across some of the most fascinating and exquisite sets that I have ever seen on any stage. Silver and Plexiglas, doors and screens, a Botticelli mosaic backdrop, with water flowing for the Grand Canal song, as the cast wades ankle-deep through the puddles, so ironic on this stormy night. The long, winding, steel staircases are extremely effective, as the parade of fleshy fantasies glide up and down, as though on a runway. There are marble, moveable tables, tipped for tabletop vocals, and a goblet of red sand, that pours like fairy dust onto a thrust stage that hides and protects the most capable musicians, as water and sand flow freely.

The music was incredibly exquisite, and Mary Stuart Masterson, in office attire, has a voice that mesmerizes and magnetizes this stage of sequined and high-heeled vamps. She sings, "My Husband Makes Movies" with pathos and power. However, the show-stopping event was the lowering of a Goddess ex Machina (in ancient theatre, a Deus ex Machina was God from a machine, lowered to save a damsel in distress). I call Jane Krakowski, as Carla, the Goddess, as she swoops down, dangling by her feet, supported and draped in soft white, in a most amazing visual display of allure and acrobatic skill. This was a sensual and sexual actress, with a throaty, purring voice, who seduced and tormented Guido with threats of her impending divorce, as he grappled with religious and familial moments of guilt.

Speaking of family, Mary Beth Peil was a poignant and proud, deceased mother, in typical black après-death clothing, who was affectively horrified at her young son's escapade with the Venetian woman of the world, Saraghina, amply played by Myra Lucretia Taylor. The nine-year old Guido, who had the voice and presence of a star in the making, was the nine-year old William Ullrich. It is rare to see such a relaxed and virtuosic child actor/singer. He carries his role with delicious delight.

Nine is a must-see production. Must see for costumes, make-up, sets, sound, lighting, vocalization, and NOT LEAST, Maury Yeston's fantastic songs, so brilliantly sung by such a professional cast. Must see for David Leveaux' masterful direction and Gregory Meeh's special effects. Must see for Jonathan Butterell's choreography, except, in the Tango scene, I would have liked to see authentic Argentinean Tango, rather than modernized Tango, Broadway style. Must see for Mario Fratti's mental mischief and Fellini characterizations. Must see for authentic Italian dialect and passages, thanks to Kate Wilson. Must see for Arthur Kopit's Book, and for the forever, visual memories, such as the dim, candle-lit Venetian Spa, the mysterious and mesmerizing female fantasies, little Guido and his red sand, and the rippling, wet Botticelli figures, so Italian, so Venice. Kudos to all!

Antonio Banderas and Company
Antonio Banderas and Company
Photo by Joan Marcus

Antonio Banderas and Company
ninebanderasoverture.jpeg
Photo by Joan Marcus

Antonio Banderas and Chita Rivera
ninebanderasriveratng.jpeg
Photo by Joan Marcus

Antonio Banderas
ninebanderassolo.jpeg
Photo by Joan Marcus

Mary Stuart Masterson, A Banderas & Jane Krakowski
Mary Stuart Masterson, A Banderas & Jane Krakowski
Photo by Joan Marcus

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at zlokower@bestweb.net