After an energetic production of The Wild Party a few months ago, Sydney indie company Little Triangle returns to the Reginald Theatre with another populous, problematic and seldom-seen musical in Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit’s 1982 Broadway hit Nine.
Inspired by Federico Fellini’s autobiographical movie 8 1/2, Nine whirls its audience into the troubled mind of Guido Contini, a movie director facing his 40th birthday with a run of box office failures behind him and a pistol – his own – at his temple.
But no bang.
Instead, Guido’s mind floods with memories and hallucinatory encounters with his mistress, his muse and his producer. His attempts to restore the confidence of his unhappy wife Luisa during a stay at an exclusive Italian spa are continually checked by the ghosts of his philandering and his inability to generate a single coherent idea for his next movie.
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Director Alexander Andrews’s production does what it can to counteract the impression that Nine is little more than a parade of numbers in which a cast of 17 women sing about or swoon over an updated Don Juan. Within the limits prescribed by Kopit’s book, the women in Guido’s life are manifested with a sense of agency and urgency, and there is an aura of retributive power in their collective presence. The strength of their massed voices does tend to cut Andy Leonard’s feckless Guido down to size.
Michele Lansdown stalks Guido very entertainingly as La Fleur and leads a showstopping tribute to the Follies Bergeres. Sarah Murr blazes as Saraghina, the Gypsy who initiated little Guido (Oscar Langmar) into sex. In the first half closer Ti Voglio Bene, she even manages to sell Yeston’s memorably terrible and oft-repeated rhyming of “Italian” and “Rapscallion”.
Katelin Koprivec is sharply funny Stephanie, the Cahiers du Cinéma critic-turned assistant producer who thinks Guido is a filmmaking lightweight. Tayla Jarret (Luisa), Petronella Van Tienen (Guido’s muse Claudia) and Tisha Keleman (his mama) make strong vocal and character contributions.
The ensemble features several conservatory-trained voices which sets Yeston’s songs ringing operatically at times.
The staging is black box minimal, with wooden stools the only set feature. Andrews uses every inch of the space available by extending element of the production into the overhead walkways and the aisle.
With the upstage area filled by a 15-piece orchestra driven by musical director and pianist Antonio Fernandez, there isn’t much room for choreographer Madison Lee but her work is disciplined and creative and she at least makes tolerable eye-candy out of space filling numbers such as The Germans at the Spa.
It’s an impressive production from an indie company and boy, does it keep a lot of people busy. Beyond that though, I’m not persuaded that Nine is a worthwhile or timely vehicle to expand all that energy on.