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“Here’s a place where I have never been. / Guido with no intervening actors, / Guido at the mercy of detractors,” Italian filmmaker Guido Contini (David A. Sheynberg ’16) sings as his personal and professional lives crumble around him. Despite what he says, Guido is never without these “intervening actors” in “Nine,” which runs Nov. 6-14 on the Loeb Mainstage. The manifold women in his life not only keep Guido from the supposed task at hand, making a new movie, but also steal the show’s spotlight with vivid imaginings of their own creation. These strong performances carry the production, despite a few drawn-out and disconnected moments.
Guido’s women breeze in and out of his life and daydreams, inspiring him on screen and off, to the detriment of his marriage and his career. Carla (a stunning Laura Sky Herman ’19), Guido’s mistress, is one such phenom. During the number “A Call from The Vatican,” she flirts with and distracts Guido from his wife, Luisa (Kyra T. Weeks ’16), and even more so from himself. Herman successfully navigates the line between playing a coquette and tapping into a more serious, raw spirit of performance. She physically dominates the entire stage, and in her presence everyone else—including Guido—does not matter. “Who won’t care if you come to me tired and overworked? / I won’t, bambino,” she belts, whipping out jazzy split-kicks with amazing extension. Scenes later, in the ballad “Simple,” Herman proves her crafting of Carla is anything but simple. Her vocal talents shine, so much so that her songs, while ostensibly directed toward Guido, stand without him.
In Sheynberg’s hands, Guido’s onstage persona bounces between a slightly awkward awe of the women around him and a red-faced eagerness that often verges on mania. When Guido and Luisa arrive at a Venetian spa so he can try to “clean my mind and live like a monk,” a gaggle of reporters surrounds him: “Please, one question at a time,” he says, coming off as more grateful for the attention than genuinely cool. It is all a dream for Guido—the spa; his fantasies about women, which sometimes include his soft-spoken mother (Marisa N. Salatino ’18); even the filmmaking process. Sheynberg’s Guido conveys a sense of reality as a confusing burden, and when he croons, “I don't want to wake tomorrow morning at the bottom of some heap,” he seems to mean it. Similarly, Sheynberg himself seems stuck in a daydream throughout the production; in the presence of such strong female performances, he is sidelined.
Sarah B. Rossman ’19 delivers one of the show’s comic highpoints as Guido’s questionably competent producer, Liliane La Fleur. As she tries to prod Guido to care about his floundering career, La Fleur also focuses on her own performance, believably caught up in a splashy musical scene rather than helping Guido to make his film. In the number “Follies Bergeres,” she triumphs as emcee of her own cabaret, complete with a chorus of dancing girls and sly jabs at every Tom, Dick, and Harry in the audience (“What’s a name with...spunk?” Rossman coyly jokes, breaking the proverbial fourth wall and eliciting laughs. “Tom, would you like to roll off of my tongue?”), not to mention a well-timed rollout of a red feather boa. It is all a bit caricaturish, a bit garish, perhaps as it should be. “This is what I want,” she sings. “I want ‘le singing.’ I want ‘le dancing.’” Rossman portrays La Fleur as a woman who wants to put herself at the stage’s center; what she does not seem to want, or even care about, are Guido and his film.
The actors—from Guido to an apparition of a childhood temptress, Sarraghina (an alluring Chloe A. Brooks ’19), to the rest of the women in the Siren-like ensemble—play out their lives in their imaginations. “I remember thinking on seeing it how beautiful it would be, if we could really live in a world like the one Contini had created,” one of Guido’s fangirls says in a scene in which the women reminisce about what Guido and his films mean to them. But that world, as well as the one staged in “Nine,” would not be as beautiful as she suggests but, rather, fuzzy and at times confused. Although punctuated by powerhouse freshman performances, in the end “Nine” becomes a show for the sake of spectacle, with a surfeit of gaudy pink light to boot.
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