Guido Contini's inability to separate his art from his personal life is what both tortures and inspires him--at least that's what he maintains throughout the musical Nine. The brilliant Italian filmmaker freely admits that his insatiable appetite for women sometimes gives him more problems than a modern-day Casanova should be forced to handle: "I would like to have another me to travel along with myself," he laments. As the Trouble Clef Theatre Company's delightful production unfolds, though, Guido's harem of singing, dancing and cavorting women proves just as interesting--if not more so--than the oversexed auteur's attempts to use his romantic exploits as the basis for his next successful movie.
A musical version of Federico Fellini's autobiographical film 8 1/2, Arthur Kopit and Maury Yeston's 1982 Broadway hit is being presented at Boulder's New Nomad Theatre. Inventively directed by Donald Berlin and performed against a neutral set of staircases, colonnades and platforms (Charles Packard did the tasteful design), the two-hour pastiche boasts several excellent singers who artfully navigate Yeston's tricky score while managing to portray a cavalcade of exotic characters.
Indeed, Karen LaMoureaux's exquisite portrayal of Guido's longtime mistress, Carla Albanese, is a winning mixture of vocal majesty, heartfelt feeling and old-fashioned sexpot elan. Whether she's singing up a storm while lying on her back with her head hanging over the end of a bench ("A Call From the Vatican") or giving full expression to Carla's tender feelings for Guido during a tuneful ballad ("Simple"), the winsome actress is eminently watchable. She's nicely complemented by Melinda Wilson, who employs superb vocal control and purity of tone ("Unusual Way") to deliver an understated rendering of Claudia Nardi, an actress on the comeback trail.
As the high-kicking, French-accented Liliane La Fleur, character actress Erica Sarzin-Borrillo strikes up a cozy relationship with the audience as she recounts her memories of show-biz days gone by ("Folies Bergeres"). Lori Hansen raises a few eyebrows when, as Sarraghina, she hikes up her nun's habit and, along with Burke Walton, Matthew Gottlieb and Shaun Steavenson--three boys who represent Young Guido and his schoolmates, respectively--dances about the stage in black lace lingerie while encouraging Guido and his youthful, school-uniformed counterparts to follow his not-so-connubial bliss ("Be Italian"). As Luisa, Guido's long-suffering wife, Deborah Persoff is sometimes inaudible but manages to convey her character's utter frustration at having to be understanding and supportive of her husband's bohemian ways. And as the eternally befuddled Guido himself, Paul Page musters enough casual charm and gentle humor to offset his occasional lack of Mastroianni-like savoir faire.
The offbeat musical might not be everyone's cup of tea, and a few scenes lack flair and panache. Bolstered by a solid supporting cast, though, this regional premiere of Kopit and Yeston's Tony Award-winning show serves as a welcome reminder that a well-acted, beautifully sung story need not stoop to the level of musical-theater hackdom in order to be entertaining--which, in itself, is an impressive and laudatory accomplishment.
Nine, presented by The Trouble Clef Theatre Company through June 5 at the New Nomad Theatre, 1410 Quince Street, Boulder, 303-444-0166.