As reading period progresses and each of us experience our own quarter-life crises, we would do well to put things into perspective. Who knew that musical theater could be the perfect therapy? With sweetness and humor, the Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club’s “Nine,” which ran this weekend at the New College Theatre, took a director’s creative blockage—something many of us can relate to—and turned it into a laugh-out-loud tale of temptation, confusion, love, and show business.
Inspired by Federico Fellini’s self-referential film “8 1/2” and transformed into a Broadway musical by Maury Yeston, “Nine” follows womanizing film director Guido Contini as he sings his way through a search for clarity in his interwoven professional and personal lives. The sole male among a cast of women, Jonah C. Priour ’09 played an excellent Contini, portraying both pathetic midlife desperation and creative obsession all in a convincingly Italian accent.
Attempting to take his mind off his troubles, Contini checks into a posh Venetian spa with his wife Luisa, but his worries persist. Refusing to confront his failing marriage and mired in artistic self-pity, he fantasizes about the other women in his life—his mistress Carla, his muse Claudia, the prostitute Sarraghina who taught him how to “Be Italian!” His apprehension about growing older is similar to that of nine-year-old Guido, played enthusiastically by the young Julyano Silva.
The musical, accompanied by a live orchestra, moved seamlessly from heartfelt ballads like “My Husband Makes Movies,” sung beautifully by Rachel E. Flynn ’09, to raunchy song-and-dance numbers and back again. It’s a testament to both Yeston’s playwriting and the direction of Barry A. Shafrin ’09. While the choreography could have been executed more gracefully, the staging was creative and particularly enjoyable in “The Bells of St. Sebastian,” where candles carried by singers in tightly rehearsed blocking formations added visual appeal to the song. The cast moved on a large, white double staircase that, despite its ambitious design, ultimately detracted from the show by revealing stagehands and by providing unstable terrain for the stiletto-clad female cast members. Lighting was also often complicated and distracting, but the performance of the cast members was captivating enough to render these elements mostly irrelevant.
“Nine” conveyed a clear message: appreciate what you have when you have it. Though this moral is earnest, and the show ended on a sincere note, the real strength of the production lay in its comedic moments. Alison H. Rich ’09 played Contini’s wonderfully frightening producer Lillian LaFleur; with gaping smiles, shrill screams, and impeccable timing, her character stole the show with “Folies Bergeres.” Other highlights were confidently sexy Carla (Jordan A. Reddout ’10) and her “A Call From the Vatican,” as well as Sarraghina’s innuendo-driven “Ti Voglio Bene/Be Italian!,” a tarantella that Jen C. Sullivan (’09) obviously enjoyed performing.
In all, “Nine” did great justice to the Tony Award-winning musical and served as an exciting preview for the film version (directed by Rob Marshall of Chicago fame) set to premiere in December 2009. “Nine” was good, old-fashioned entertainment, and with catchy melodies and solid performances by leading cast members, a midlife crisis has never been quite so entertaining.