Nine the Musical by Arthur Kopit and Maury Yeston is a coming-of-middle-age story about a famous Italian film director in the 1960s. Guido Contini never says "I love you," not even to his wife, his mistress, or his star, but instead he does his best to juggle all of them at a safe distance, while simultaneously making every other woman that crosses his path feel as if she is the only woman that matters.
He loves conducting the whole chorus of women that seem to be gushing, "Oh, Guido!" on life's stage with him. If only there were more of him to go around. His producer (another woman) is demanding a new hit film from him but he is out of ideas and feeling the pressure - too much artistic pressure to listen to what any of these women are actually saying to him.
Guido is not the first man to use being a creative genius as an excuse for insensitive or immature behavior. In some ways his story is a predictable one. But it unfolds with such richness and humor that it becomes fresh and universally relatable. We all have to make choices in life. If we're lucky, we all eventually make peace with the patterns and desires of our inner children and become grown-ups.
This Footlite Musicals production is sexy and beautiful, which is another reason it is satisfying to ride along with Guido on his journey to consciousness while at a spa in Venice. Under Tim Spradlin's direction, Andy Morales is a swoon-worthy yet endearing Guido. Each of the women in his life deftly moves from being a stock character to a fully complex human being as Guido's awareness grows.
I laughed compulsively at one point because Stacia Hulen playing his mistress, Carla Albanes, was so effective in her dance of sexual invitation, but all of the women playing the women in Guido's life offer striking variations on female power and vulnerability.
The painted backdrop on Ed Trout's set looks suspiciously like the backdrop that was used in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels last year but it also looks elegant behind the wealth of faux marble cubes on which 21 women, two young boys, and Guido sit, stand, sing, and dance. Every single person in that crowd wears his or her own wireless microphone, so it is blissfully easy to hear and understand every line.
The lovely orchestra, conducted by Deb Farmer-Smith, is hidden behind the set rather than in the pit, so the balance of sound is good, too. Susan Sanderock's 1960s costumes combined with Daniel Klingler's hair and makeup designs are a visual delight.
I took off a star for two reasons: Some of the voices are not as consistently strong as one might like, although all are a pleasure to listen to and all of the actors are exquisite communicators. But more importantly, in the performance I saw, Carmen Upchurch and Brian Gossett's clever lighting design - a mixture of dark dreaminess that relies heavily on spotlights for illumination and which subtly suggest Guido only seeing what he wants to see - was fumbled in execution by spotlights that opened late or took too long to settle in the right place or didn't follow the performers or just bobbled when they weren't supposed to. It was distracting.
But overall I was impressed by this all-volunteer community theatre piece and glad to have the chance to see and hear this Tony Award-winning musical.