DOMA Theatre Company follows its smash 99-seat revival of Dreamgirls with another dreamgirl-packed Tony-winning musical, a mostly quite successful downsizing of the big-stage Broadway hit Nine.
Based on Federico Fellini’s semi-autobiographical film 8½, Nine (book by Arthur Kopit) takes place in the mind and the memory of its Felliniesque protagonist Guido Contini (David Michael Treviño), a man confronting a perfect storm of midlife crises—a script he can’t seem to write for a movie whose deadline hangs ominously over his head, a wife of twenty years who is asking for a divorce, a movie star mistress threatening suicide if he doesn’t get that divorce and marry her, and a glamorous film diva who flatly refuses to star in Guido’s latest opus.
As Guido’s story unfolds, we get to know Luisa Contini (Melissa Anjose), his unsatisfied wife; Carla Albanese (Lovlee Carroll), his self-absorbed mistress; Claudia Nardi (Toni Smith), his luscious leading lady/muse; Mamma Contini (Michelle Holmes), his adoring mother; Liliane La Fleur (Emilia Sotelo), a former grande vedette des Folies Bergère turned movie producer; Stephanie Necrophorus, (Andrea Arvanigian), a pushy American film journalist; Our Lady of the Spa (Brittany Rodin), the proprietress of the health spa where Guido and Luisa have gone in search of peace and quiet; Mama Maddelena (Amy Garbett), the head of the spa chambermaids; Sarraghina (Liza Baron), the whore who initiates nine-year-old Guido into the ways of women; and spa employees Diana and Maria (Tania Possick and Devin Holliman), ready to give grown-up Guido that friendly Italian service. (Lina Darling, Liliane’s imperious sidekick, is nowhere to be seen in the current production.)
As Guido’s mind wanders from place to place and time to time and woman to woman, Nine treats us to some of the most beautiful Broadway songs of the ‘80s, canzoni which showcase the talents of these donne favolose (fabulous women), beginning with the gorgeous soprano harmonies of “Overture Delle Donne.”
Film buffs may be surprised at just how much music there is in Nine The Musical, fully half of Maury Yeston’s gorgeous songs not having it into the movie, their place taken by dramatic scenes (like Carla’s suicide attempt) that seemed out of place in a movie musical.
And what gorgeous songs there are in the original stage production, particularly those that get performed by the evening’s standout trio of leading ladies, each one the very definition of beauty, talent, and versatility.
The exquisite Anjose segues from the alluring temptress that was In The Heights’ Vanessa to the donna elegante that is Luisa Contini, whether describing her life in song in the lovely, pensive “My Husband Makes Movies” or bringing down the house with the evening’s biggest showstopper, a gutsy, dramatic “Be On Your Way.”
Carroll (Kira in DOMA’s Xanadu) is sultriness and sex-appeal personified as screen siren Carla, whether lending her marvelous pipes to a seductive “A Call From The Vatican” or a simply beautiful “Simple.”
Smith, who impressed this reviewer five years back with her delightfully quirky turn as The Last Five Year’s Cathy, simply couldn’t be more movie-star glamorous as Claudia, exhibiting the evening’s richest vocals in “Cinema Italiano” and “Unusual Way.”
Also making strong impressions are Sotelo and Arvanigian with an oh-so ooh-la-la “Folies Bergeres” and the fiery Baron with a lusty, busty “Be Italian.” The elegant Holmes shows off a lovely soprano in the title song and “Guarda La Luna,” though she comes across rather too cool and aristocratic for Guido’s earthy Italian mom. Rodin is once again a vocal standout, with dance captain Garbett, Possick, and Holliman providing excellent song-and-dance support.
Treviño has a number of fine moments as a particularly idiosyncratic Guido, and “Guido’s Song,” “Only With You,” “The Bells Of St. Sebasitian,” and “I Can’t Make This Movie” are all nicely sung. Still, the role of Guido calls for a younger, more dynamic, charismatic romantic lead à la Raúl Juliá, the original Broadway Guido, or Antonio Banderas, ideally cast in the 2003 Broadway revival.
Director Gomez deserves top marks for keeping Nine visually striking at all times, making effective use of Amanda Lawson’s eye-pleasing two-story set design. Also, Gomez’s addition of “Cinema Italiano” (introduced in the movie adaptation) gives the production a bona fide crowd-pleasing Act Two opener.
Less successful is the substitution of “Guarda La Luna” (written for the movie’s Sophia Loren) for “Getting Tall,” thereby robbing Guido and his younger self (a sweet Donovan Baise as Little Guido) of Nine’s poignant eleventh hour duet “Growing Tall,” sorely missed here.
Another questionable directorial choice is the gender-switching of several ensemble members. This is not to say that Ra’Shawn Durell (Francesco, Cardinal), Victor Mercado (Renato), and Alex Favela (Angelo) don’t do fine work all three; still, this unneeded tinkering with a brilliant original concept (one man + fourteen women) only serves to dilute Nine’s effectiveness and power.
A dialect coach could have helped cast members with their accents and the script’s many Italian-language lines, spoken here with varying degrees of success.
There can be absolutely no quibbling, however, about Rae Toledo’s sizzling choreography in “Folies Bergeres,” “Be Italian,” and “Cinema Italiano,” performed with Franco-Italian flair by a cast of terrific L.A. triple-threats.
Nine The Musical benefits immeasurably from Chris Raymond’s phenomenal musical direction and the performances of the side-stage band—Raymond and Ng Yuhong on keyboards, Tom Luer and Stephen Clothier on reeds, James Blackwell on trumpet, Antonio Rodrigo on bass, and Ben Rose on drums and percussion. Not only does Raymond score highest marks as musical director/conductor, he deserves an extra round of applause for adapting the musical’s original orchestrations for this production’s scaled-down band.
Costume designer Irvin Jimenez is the evening’s undisputed design star, each of his gowns more dazzling than the next, and don’t even attempt to count how many costume changes each character has. Johnny Ryman lights both costumes and set with abondante pizzazz. Sound designer David Crawford insures a perfect mix of amped vocals and instrumentals, all of which sound great on the Met’s upgraded speaker system.
Nicholas Acciani is stage manager. Timothy Miller is technical director, Steve Mendoza assistant technical director, Dean Wright assistant lighting designer, Hallie Baran props master, Edgar Edgerly house manager, Ellie Lynn Follett wardrobe assistant, and Mayra Jimenez wardrobe supervisor. Gomez is executive producer, JC Chavez controller, Danielle DeMasters production manager, Cesar Martinez executive director, Victor Mercado artistic director, and Dolf Ramos president.
While not the unqualified triumph that was their recent Dreamgirls, Nine The Musical adds to DOMA Theatre Company’s growing reputation, at the very least offering Broadway musical lovers the rare opportunity to check out this rarely-produced Maury Yeston gem.
DOMA Theatre Co. @ The MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hollywood.
July 12, 2013
Photos: Michael Lamont