Alibi V.27 No.32 • Aug 9-15, 2018 

Theater Review

Ninth Time's a Charm

Musical Theatre Southwest's wonderful Nine

Nine
Jason Ponic Photography

A quick Google search tells me that men don't reach emotional maturity until the age of 43. This is blindingly obvious to theater-goers who watch star film director Guido Cantini's mental aerobics visualized on-stage in the musical Nine. As Guido approaches his imminent 40th birthday, he feels his creative genius flagging under the pressure to satisfy a new film contract after years of flops. His crisis is externalized and illumined for the audience (if not Guido himself) through several romantic relationships, and some seminal childhood experiences recapped, of course, by his mother.

Based on Italian director Federico Fellini's super-meta semi-autobiographical 8 1/2, Musical Theatre Southwest's Nine is as stylish, glamorous and thought-provoking (without sacrificing a drop of mirth) as you might expect. Led by Jonathan Gallegos in the role of Guido and guided by director Robb Anthony Sisneros, this production does a lot with very little. The set is very sparse, but the players are so talented and well-choreographed—ever in motion in the space—that the tableau stays visually interesting for the full two-and-a-half-hour run.

If you're fully aware of what Nine is when you head into the theater—the overlapping fantasies and realities of an oblivious though self-important man, then it really is fun to watch and unpack. MTS's production of the the '70s play is, indeed, self-aware, turning what could be exasperated sighs into sort of endearing, head shaking “aww, come on, Guido,” sentiments.

It's the women—and there are lots of them—that educate and illumine the story here. They are primarily Guido's wife Luisa (played with great feeling by incredibly well-voiced Courtney Awe), Guido's lover Carla (given such flair by Kir Kipness), Sarraghina, who first teaches a young Guido about sex and romance (brought to life with a wonderful rendition of show-stopping number “Ti Voglio Bene/ Be Italian” by Ashley Lopez) and actress/fantasy/obsession Claudia (the graceful Christine Smith). And there are more—actually so many, many more. But these pivotal characters illumine Guido's egotism, his dilemmas. The entire cast is women save for Guido—and each actress's talent goes far—none of these faces or voices are lost in chorus. Costume designer Shannon Scheffler's glitz and gauze helps, too.

I suppose immaturity—or perhaps that is too harsh a word—childlike uncertainty and occasional bewilderment—is the point here—proven by the appearance of 9-year-old Guido who charmingly guides his older self. What we land on is a rich show ready for critique and discussion—played with admirable confidence by a cast of talented women and of course, alluring Guido. Whether you walk away examining the creative process or the treatment of women in such production—what most will agree on is how fun Nine is to watch, and how equally fun it is to discuss.

Catch Nine at Musical Theatre Southwest on weekends through Aug. 26. Tickets, times, and more are available online at musicaltheatresw.com.

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