Nine. A rarely performed musical based on Fellini's surrealist comedy-drama 8 1/2, scored by dual Tony Award winner Maury Yeston and later transformed into a terrible, terrible movie musical.
StageArt have yet again brought to the Chapel off Chapel stage a musical that you're unlikely to catch anywhere else soon. To lead the charge they've brought on board Choreographer extraordinaire Michael Ralph to direct this semi-dated, feminist-enraging script, and Nathan Firmin as Musical Director.
The cast is made up of 14 women, 1 man and a young boy. A striking but welcome contrast to the conventional structure of a modern musical. If you're not familiar with the show, in a nutshell a struggling, hypersexual film director named Guido Contini has been given a contract to put together a film he hasn't written yet. He has a wife, he cheats on her a whole heap, lots of women forgive him for making a mess of their lives, he has mental episodes where he sees himself as a nine year old child and there's a nun. The music is beautiful, the script is ok-but-dated and the film should not have happened.
In the central role of Guido Contini is Anthony Scundi. In the program his biography screams "I'm an actor!" and unfortunately so does his performance. He gives a solid and intricate performance that is undone by his clear discomfort with the operatically inclined vocal demands of the role. I can appreciate that he is a great actor, but unfortunately in a musical if your lead performer cannot sing the role with confidence and ease, it doesn't land.
As his wife, Alana Tranter plays Luisa. Her interpretation is rather soft and under-footed until Act Two when she rips out an incredible rendition of what is an indisputable highlight of the evening - 'Be On Your Own'. Playing the two scarlet women in Contini's life are Rachel Bronca as Carla and Courtney Glass as Claudia. Bronca plays sexy/cute extremely well and Ralph has clearly had a lot of fun playing with the choreography of her big number. In a truely horrendous blonde wig, Glass does a fine job of Claudia but her clearly put-on Italian accent gets in the way of her ability to play the character truthfully.
Other highlights include Bronte Florian as the gritty, earthy Saraghina, Stephanie John as the oh-so-dry producer/critic; Stephanie, and the darling Ana Mitsikas who's soaring soprano voice rings like a bell in the role of Guido's Mother.
Where the production completely falls apart is in it's VERY clear absence of a dialect coach. The accents in this production are a complete mishmash both in dialogue and song, with basic fundamentals being thrown in and out like optional extras in a Health Insurance Plan. The largest accent-abomination is that of the 'French' producer Lilianne La Fleur - played by Rebecca Morton. If she was going for German, I'd say it was an 'ok' attempt. If you're going to put on a production for nearly $70 a ticket that's set in a non-English speaking country, the complete oversight in enlisting a dialect coach into your core production team is pretty unforgivable.
Direction by Ralph feels like it would be much better set in a large theatre space. The dirty white stage is marked with red/orange/brown-rusty-looking squares and then surrounding that stage are the women of the show (in heels, for nearly the whole show - how are those feet and backs ladies?). It just looks so busy. When there's people around the edge, a pattern on a dirty stage and then actors in the centre, it's hard to create a focal point.
Costuming by Meredith Cooney is hit and miss, Lighting by Tom Wills is well done and complimentary to the story, Sound by LSS (as always) is tip top and the very reduced band, led by Firmin, does a solid job in filling out what is meant to be a much larger orchestration.
Nine - worth seeing because you're unlikely to catch is anywhere else. Wouldn't recommend going if you're actually Italian - you might find it harder to stomach than La Porchetta.
Tickets: Click here
Review Date: 21/10/2018
This is an independent review which was not invited by StageArt
Photo Credit: Belinda Strodder