BWW Interview: Talking with the Artists Behind Podium Concerts' NINE IN CONCERT
After the success of last year's inaugural show, THE SECRET GARDEN IN CONCERT, Podium Concert Productions returns to present NINE IN CONCERT on January 12th and 13th at Trinity-St. Paul's Centre for the Arts. NINE IN CONCERT features a cast of 15 incredible Canadian performers and an ensemble of singers from the Etobicoke School of the Arts, accompanied by an orchestra of 23 world-class musicians, led by music director Mark Cammilleri.
Exploring the evolution of a man in the midst of a mid-life crisis, the five-time Tony Award-winning musical Nine, with music by Maury Yeston and a book by Arthur Kopit, is based on Federico Fellini's semi-autobiographical film 8 ½, starring Marcello Mastroianni as the troubled protagonist, Guido Contini. A famous Italian film director now in his forties, Guido is under pressure to create a new film, but finds himself suffering from a combination of writer's block and problems with his twenty-year marriage.
Searching for inspiration and answers, Guido turns to the women in his life, discovering that both the creative block and the issues with his marriage are one in the same."When it's all breaking down, how does one evolve and move forward," asks director Tim French.
NINE IN CONCERT features Stratford Festival-veteran Juan Chioran in the role of the artist - Guido Contini.
CHIORAN: "It's one of those roles that I've been sort of chasing, wanting to do years. He's having sort of a mid-life crisis, intersecting with absolute writer's block of a director's kind, and that kind of weaves him in and out of reality and fantasy, because a lot of what happens in this play, happens in his mind and in his imagination. It's basically fantasy, memory and reality all intersecting into the experience that we see in front of our eyes."
"It's very clear from the beginning that they are all very strong-willed, powerful women."
On the surface, especially in light of recent events in the Toronto arts community, Nine can come off as the glorification of a promiscuous male artist, using women as pawns to fuel his creative process. French explains that at the core of the piece, that really is not the case with this story. There is a wealth of respect between each of the women and Guido, and the show gives the women the space to tell their story.
FRENCH: "I'm not sure how you avoid anybody's perception or experience of a script or story. I think that's what happens in viewing art, and in this case, theatre. In theatre, the lens through which we watch a show and experience it always changes because we change as a society. How some people in the audience will perceive Guido and the women in his story now, will be very different from ten years ago. It's going to be something that is really unique to the current audience of the time - right now.
With all of the women in this story, there's never a sense between Guido and these women that there isn't love between them all. There's adoration, there's love, there's respect."
"It's not 'One', it's not 'Him' - it's 'Nine'."
Actress Tracy Michailidis, who recently portrayed Beth Carter in Musical Stage Company's Life After, will be playing the role of Luisa Contini, Guido's wife.
MICHAILIDIS: "The title refers to its inspiration. It's not "One", it's not "Him" - it's "Nine". I was watching a documentary the other day - I'm a Born Liar, a 2002 documentary about Fellini - and he talks about how he is constantly looking for completion in the woman, looking to make himself whole. So he's sort of admitting in a way that, as a man, that the women were wiser, that they held something - a mystery that he did not have. As opposed to objectifying them, or as opposed to them being lesser than him - he was looking to these women for guidance, for wisdom, for wholeness."
FRENCH: "It's very clear from the beginning that they are all very strong-willed, powerful women, but at the same time, when each of them (for their own self-worth), have to realize that they can no longer accept how they operate in Guido's life - they turn away from him, they walk away from him, they say goodbye to him, or they reject him."
"...the most self-absorbed number in musical theatre."
Maury Yeston won a Tony Award in 1982 for Best Original Score for Nine's complex, challenging music. One of the musical highlights is Guido's big "I want" number at the top of the show, "Guido's Song" - introducing us to the frazzled man unraveling before us.
CHIORAN: "[Guido's Song] is an homage to megalomania. How many times he says "me," or "Guido," or "I want" - it is the most self-absorbed number probably in musical theatre, and yet, within that, there is an incredible fragility, because he is at a place where he doesn't understand who he is, or what he wants. That's the kind of wonderful thing about Maury Yeston's music and Arthur Kopit's libretto.
What is wonderful is that they're able to kind of paint this rather egocentric character, and yet, he wears all his faults on his sleeve. So if I do my job right, the audience should be able to go, "Oh my god, you're so full of it," and yet feel a sort of sympathy for the guy as well, because he is in such crisis that he's really just literally grasping at straws. That song has this built-in momentum of freneticism, and the music, I think, captures that very well. The music really captures his crisis."
Michailidis' character, Luisa, gets to sing some of the show's most beautiful music, including "My Husband Makes Movies," a deeply affecting ballad she sings to a room full of reporters in the first act.
MICHAILIDIS: "On one technical level, as a woman, it's so nice to be able to sing in one's lower register, which is a technical thing, but for me also connects to the gut. It taps into something a little deeper, the gut, which is intuition and groundedness. I think in that song, she becomes the centre of attention in the way that she shifts the scene. They're asking her the questions, but they're leading the questions. Ultimately, she puts her hand up and says, you know what, I'm going to re-frame this for you.
With "Be On Your Own," the audience is different - it's a private moment. I think it's something that's been inside of Luisa for a long time and there's nowhere else for her to go than to just sing the song. You can hear the cello, you can hear the violins. I feel "Be On Your Own" is a little more in the chest - her heart is breaking, therefore she must sing this song."
"A concert version really presents the piece in its most pure form."
With NINE IN CONCERT, all of the original music and dialogue from the musical (save for a few small cuts) will be performed.
CHIORAN: "We are doing the show as written - just in a concert format. The show itself, when staged, is really not too different from a concert, in that it was initially done with all of the different people in Guido's life in different spots on the stage, and they would come in and meet, and a scene would take place. That's going to work well for our setup.
There are no music stands. I think we want to be as close and immediate to our audience without a wall of stands separating us. We have a 23-piece orchestra and I think 30-some students as our choir, from the Etobicoke School of the Arts - so there's going to be about 60 people up on the stage!"
FRENCH: "A concert version really presents the piece in its most pure form, without the added layer of design and director's vision. It doesn't really give a director a chance to put a specific point of view or stamp on it, as you would if you had rehearsals and you were working with designers. We'll be able to hopefully have the audience understand the story, experience the musical and then they can take away the various themes and elements of the piece that are resonant to them at this point of time in their lives."
CHIORAN: "Because of the nature of the show, the experience that the audience will have will be pretty close to a fully mounted production - so I don't think that they're going to be missing a great deal. The church plays a great, great part in the background and the culture of the piece, so the fact that we're in a church, I think, is going to just speak volumes in and of itself. That will be our set."
MICHAILIDIS: "I do love the concert format of shows, particularly with a show with such great music - people can really just listen to the lyrics and the words. I also just feel like a lucky duck for getting to work with all of these women. To be standing, at this moment in time - that's one of the best things about doing this show this week - to be standing up there with all these women, singing, I think is a real gift."
NINE IN CONCERT is presented by Podium Concert Productions and runs January 12 & 13, 2018 at Trinity-St. Paul's Centre for the Arts, 427 Bloor St W, Toronto, ON.
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit http://podiumconcerts.com/
NINE IN CONCERT
Directed by Tim French
Musical Direction by Mark Camilleri
Featuring: Juan Chioran, Alexis Gordon, Kira Guloien, Alexandra Herzog, Ashley Hughson, Barbara Mantini, Gabriel Mattka, Tracy Michailidis, Jamie McRoberts, Denise Oucharek, Rebecca Poff, Valerie Stanois, Sash Striga, Kate Suhr, Victoria Whistance-Smith
Also featuring the Etobicoke School of the Arts Women's Ensemble and a 23-member orchestra conducted by Mark Camilleri