BWW Reviews: Guido and the Ladies Who Torment Him - NINE
Luisa's husband makes movies.
That is the simplest way to describe NINE (the musical based on the 1963 film 8 ½ by Federico Fellini) which follows the story of Guido Contini an Italian director who tries desperately to overcome his recent failings as a filmmaker. Overwhelmed by his desire to have it all, Guido finds himself tormented as well as inspired by the women in his life. Raised in the staunch Catholic way, Guido is well acquainted in the concept of morality, but can't seem to keep himself from straying from the women who love him.
In Music Theatre of Madison's production of the Tony Award Winning show, it is those same ladies who take center stage.
Leslie Cao captures the audience's attention in her sultry portrayal of Carla Albanesi (Guido's mistress). Particularly in her spotlight song "A Call from the Vatican" which, in conjunction with stunning choreography by Lyn Pilch and Director Meghan Randolph, illustrates the power behind Cao's abilities. Utilizing the unique space in which MTM has chosen to set their production (The Brink Lounge) Pilch and Randolph's choice to place Cao on the staircase is exhilarating. Partly because one fears that Cao will lose her balance at any given moment, but mainly because it literally elevates Carla above Guido which is a literal manifestation of his dependence on her.
Whereas Claudia Nardi, Guido's muse, who is confidently played by Bridget Schwefel is seemingly given very little movement direction. Her big moment to shine in the song "Unusual Way" is dulled by her lack of physicality. Luckily, Schwefel's enchanting voice endows the lyrics with the emotion that the song needs to hit its mark.
Perfectly balanced between the overtly sensual choreography given to the mistress and the scant movement given
to the muse is the wife. Liz Griffith is the ideal neutrality that Guido's patient companion needs. Luisa Contini spends the majority of her stage time wearing a metaphorical mask to protect her husband's reputation. It is because of this general mildness that Griffith's moments of absolute heartache resonate through the playing space. She does not even need to say a word to fill the room with disdain - that is the sign of a very well-cast Luisa.
The trouble with NINE is that so much of the story (as well as the majority of the music) is focused on the ladies that Guido becomes a secondary character in his own life. Mikhael Farah Gaeta suffers from this production affliction and seems to spend the entire run of the show trying to find his drive until the song "I Can't Make This Movie". That final song is incredible. Gaeta's voice picks up all of the emotion it was lacking - he truly shines in this song that is all his. If he is able to take the sentiment from this moment and catapult it into the rest of the show, he would no longer be secondary.
That isn't to say that having the ladies be so powerful in this production is a negative thing. NINE's cinematic debut in the 2009 film by Rob Marshall over sexualizes the women. Marshall's film also does its female characters a disservice by downplaying their importance as human beings. MTM's production negates all of these falsities and reinvigorates the award winning musical's truest potentials.
Guido's most complex relationships are, after all, far more than just trysts - they're an unholy trinity.