Review Roundup: Atlantis Productions' NINE, Now thru Oct 7

Review Roundup: Atlantis Productions' NINE, Now thru Oct 7Manila, Philippines, September 24, 2012 - Prolific theater company Atlantis Productions Inc.'s VIPs, Bobby Garcia and Chari Arespacochaga, have been running in the fast lane lately: Both had to fly out to Singapore to direct and prepare to open Tony-winning musical "Avenue Q" at Marina Bay Sands over the weekend, just a few days after they premiered another Tony-winning musical, "Nine," last Friday night at Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium.

Winner of five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, "Nine," features music and lyrics by Maury Yeston - "Be Italian," "Unusual Way" are the most familiar songs from the show - and book by Arthur Kopit.

"Nine" was inspired by the life and times of one of Italy's most celebrated filmmakers, Federico Fellini (1920-1983), and his semi-autobiographical, comedy-drama film, "8 ½."

In the musical, Guido Contini, an Italian movie director, is facing a mid-life crisis, some pressure to score a new hit movie (after several box office flops), and numerous demands of the many women in his life.

Jett Pangan plays Contini; Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo plays Contini's devoted wife, Luisa; Cherie Gil plays the filmmaker's producer, Liliane Le Fleur; Eula Valdez plays the movie director's favorite leading lady and muse, Claudia Nardi; Carla Guevara-Laforteza plays Review Roundup: Atlantis Productions' NINE, Now thru Oct 7Contini's psycho-neurotic mistress Carla Albanese; Ima Castro plays prostitute Sarraghina; Sitti Navarro plays the Lady of the Spa; Yanah Laurel plays film critic, Stephanie Necrophorus; Joy Glorioso plays Contini's deceased mother; Mikkie Bradshaw, Reg Claraval, Princess Virtudazo, and Japs Treopaldo play Contini's avid fans; and Warren David Saga and Ethan Paras alternate as nine-year-old Contini. 

The local production takes pride in flying in Tony Award-winning scenic designer David Gallo ("Memphis" "Mountaintop") to work on the show's scenic design, which early reviews refer to as "vast, grandiose, and elaborate."

Read what theater critics have been writing about Atlantis Productions' "Nine" below.

Vladimir Bunoan, Indeed, watching film and TV actress Cherie Gil steal the show with her bombastic number "Follies Bergere" may be already worth the price of admission. Playing a demanding film producer who insists on coming up with a movie musical, Gil's powerful stage presence, with a French accent to boot, could have easily put the production off balance, particularly when she emerged in sexy showgirl outfit, showing off her fine form. Her husky voice provided an earthy contrast to the glorious sopranos of her co-actresses.

But the magic of Atlantis' "Nine" is that despite Gil's show-stopping number, the others all Review Roundup: Atlantis Productions' NINE, Now thru Oct 7managed to shine.

TV and film actress Eula Valdez, who cut short her stint on the top-rating soap "Walang Hanggan" to do "Nine," was the evening's revelation as the film star Claudia, Contini's muse. Valdez's beauty and presence were also immediately felt, even when performing in the ensemble numbers. Taking on the musical's hauntingly beautiful "Unusual Way," Valdez hit notes you never thought she was capable of, showing studied technique and control. Her recitation of her goodbye letter to Contini was heartbreaking in its sincerity.

Musical theater veteran Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo as Contini's wife gave the role inner strength, which erupts in the defiant "Be On Your Own." But it's her rendition of "My Husband Makes Movies" that truly captured her range as an actress, conveying the many emotions inside her for Contini from admiration to insecurity and even resignation, while maintaining a happy façade…

Despite his inconsistent accent and some goofy moments, Jett Pangan impressed mainly because of his outstanding vocals and the clarity he brought to his lines. In the showpiece soliloquy "Guido's Song," which conveys the many contradictions of his character, Pangan brought back the awe of his highly praised number in "Jekyll and Hyde." And he got even better in "The Bells of St. Sebastian," his guilt-ridden cries of "Kyrie" was stirring, hitting each individual note in the runs with precision.

For director [Bobby] Garcia, all he really needed to do was to allow this overflowing of talent to gush forth. He could have given us a bare stage and you know these stars would still deliver.

But Garcia placed his cast on a grand set which took up the entire stage, length and height. Tony-winning set designer David Gallo assembled a series of risers and steps to resemble a Review Roundup: Atlantis Productions' NINE, Now thru Oct 7marble fountain to give the musical a sense of grandeur and worthy of those who are on it.

Francis Christian Lubag, Excess and grandiosity seems to be the overarching philosophy of the production. From the powerhouse cast that includes theater veterans and commercial artists, the detailed and flamboyant costumes, to the staggering and elaborate stage design, Bobby Garcia heads a calculated, disciplined and almost cerebral execution. All of which justifiably evokes the grand scale and depth of the complexities in a troubled artist's mind. 

The production takes pride in flying in multi-awarded stage, scenic and projection designer David Gallo to create the environment where "Nine" takes place. His design successfully takes on Venice while juxtaposing the intricacies of Guido's psyche. This technique often brings the audience in to the confusion of the artist between reality and personal perception. The masterful and efficient management of space on stage in consideration to the dynamics among the characters was also noteworthy…

The scale of the production goes beyond its grandiose performances within the stage. It often breaks the fourth wall to involve the audience, which shatters the barrier that makes the audience passive viewers to, at most, intrusive peeping toms on the lives and psyche of the characters. Moreover, "Nine" latently provides a cerebral sense of irony in its production and Review Roundup: Atlantis Productions' NINE, Now thru Oct 7story: the emptiness from trying to capture and recapture everything, the philosophy of excess in the discourse of creative block, and the homage to its cinematic roots.

Fred Hawson, I remember being disappointed when I saw the film version of the Broadway musical "Nine" shown a couple of years back.  The film, a glamour project which featured renowned film stars Daniel Day-Lewis, Nicole Kidman, Sophia Loren, Penelope Cruz and Kate Hudson, seemed too disjointed to be good and even memorable.  I don't remember much of the film frankly…

The stage design is the most elaborate and wondrous I have ever seen for an Atlantis production. The whole RCBC theater stage was converted into a marble spa with multiple pedestals, stairs and doors where the actors performed on its multiple levels.  This is definitely an award-winning stage design, in both its look and functionality.  When an actor was performing on the top most tier, it looked absolutely breathtaking.

I am glad I did not let my disappointment in the film version stop me from watching this play.  This play is for adults only because of its mature theme. There will be some potentially scandalous scenes for some conservative audiences.  However, overall, it is an excellent production.  It is definitely going to impact the most on the middle age group, who could easily identify with Guido's midlife crisis portrayed.  There is an important life message in there somewhere which each member of the audience would have to figure out for himself.

Congratulations to Director Bobby Garcia and the rest of the Atlantis cast and crew for another thought-provoking and very entertaining show!

Photos by GA Fallame, Jaime Unson.

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