Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit’s "Nine" is a musical homage and follow up to Federico Fellini’s film "8 ½." At the Ruth N. Halls Theatre, once again the audience is treated to the strange 1/4 real and 3/4 fantasy world of the tortured film director, Guido.
John Armstrong is the charmingly troubled director. Although "Nine" can be played with a mixed group, director and choreographer George Pinney emphasizes Guido’s perpetual womanizing by casting Armstrong and his younger doppleganger, the winning Will Grindle, against twenty-two women.
The prominent women in Guido’s life seem to wander willy nilly through the production. Erin Ehlers as the voluptuous prostitute Sarraghina gave the young Guido some tips on winning women. The tips seem to have worked because throughout "Nine," woman after woman remarks about Guido’s intense charm. It’s a charm that certainly works on his trashy mistress Carla delightfully played by Angie Perez. It’s a little ragged about the edges, but still has some power over Maggie Mountsier as Claudia the actress Guido once made into a star, but who wants to break out of the mold he keeps trying to keep her in. Although the effect of the charm flickers, it does continue to work with his long suffering wife Luisa played by Erin Daugherty.
Guido’s charm is considerable less effective with Margot Gendreau as his very demanding and very French producer Lilliane La Fleur and her mysteriously silent assistant Molly Kruse. It’s negatively effective on Heather Lynn as the journalist Stephanie Necrophorus. Casey Searles as Guido’s demanding mother kept her own version of the charm. Rainelle Bumbaugh as the mystic Our Lady of the Spa seemed both part of and above any of the remaining charm.
As "Nine" opens there is plenty action, choreography and even a choral focus as Guido, baton in hand, conducts the women who populate his mind and world. Accents are varied and heavy. The direction makes it clear about who the characters are and what they mean, but I was thinking longingly about the super titles up the street in the Musical Arts Center’s production of "Madama Butterfly." Either because my ears sharpened or accents flattened out a bit as the show went on things got a bit clearer. However, there were more than a few lines and a couple of Gilbert and Sullivan style patter pieces that I’d love to hear again with the words in front of me.
The IU Department of Theatre and Drama’s production of "Nine" is quite a mini-spectacular with great costumes, a gallery of interesting characters, some energetically involving dance numbers, and definitely Felliniesque circus elements. Neither the music nor the minimal plot sustain the full two hours, but there is plenty to enjoy. Music Director James Ivey and Adam Burnette presided orchestrally at the twin grand pianos.
"Nine" continues at the Ruth N. Halls Theatre with performances each evening at seven-thirty through Saturday.
You can find an interview with John Armstrong and Margot Gendreau on our Arts Interviews page .