"The trouble with Contini/He's the king of mediocrity/A second-rate director/Who thinks that he is Socrates
- Book by Arthur Kopit (translation by Mario Fratti)
- Music and lyrics by Maury Yeston
- Musical supervision and orchestration by Jonathan Tunick
- Musical direction by Wally Harper
- Choreographed by Tommy Tune and Thommie Walsh
- Directed by Tommy Tune
- Opened 5/9/82 at the 46th Street Theatre in New York (732 performances).
Liliane La Fleur
This musical was based on the film 8 1/2.
Forty-year-old Guido Contini is a famous Italian film director with three women in his life: his wife Luisa, his mistress Carla, and the actress Claudia (his protege). His last three films have been flops, and he's having a midlife crisis. In an last attempt to rejuvenate his failing marriage, he takes Luisa to a spa in Venice. However, Carla is also there, and while Guido claims to Luisa that it's over between him and Carla, their relationship is obviously still in existence. His Parisian producer, Lilaine, is bugging him to come up with an idea for a film. The presence of Claudia inspires a movie plot in him.
Much of the show takes place as fantasy movie sequences or as flashbacks to Guido's childhood--his mother and aunts fawned over him, he got a lesson in sexuality from a local whore (Saraghina), and he was punished and generally made to feel guilty at St. Sebastian's, his Catholic school. What the plot boils down to is that because Guido is too immature to commit to any one of his women, he manages to alienate all of them and finds that he is unable to finish his movie. He becomes disoriented and fantasizes suicide, but is saved by his nine-year-old self, who helps him separate his younger self from his older self. Guido goes off in search of Luisa, having finally realized that he loves her deeply.
- Overture delle Donne/Spa Music/Not Since Chaplin
- Guido's Song
- The Germans at the Spa
- My Husband Makes Movies
- A Call from the Vatican
- Only with You
- Folies Bergeres
- Be Italian (Ti Voglio Bene)
- The Bells of St. Sebastian
- Unusual Way
- The Grand Canal
- Be On Your Own
- I Can't Make This Movie
- Waltz from Nine
- Getting Tall
Entries in red were winners.
- Best Musical
- Best Score
- Best Book
- Best Director
- Best Choreographer
- Best Actor (Raul Julia)
- Best Actress, Featured Role (Liliane Montevecchi)
- Best Actress, Featured Role (Karen Akers)
- Best Actress, Featured Role (Anita Morris)
- Best Scenic Designer (Lawrence Miller)
- Best Costume Designer (William Ivey Long)
- Best Lighting Designer (Marcia Madeira)
Wow. Wow. I didn't know what to expect from this CD. I was familiar with Maury Yeston first through Titanic, which had some very lovely musical moments but also some wrongheaded and tedious ones. If that's where you're coming from, gentle reader--or, perhaps, from his pretty but dull Phantom or his fractional Grand Hotel--let me assure you that Nine is light-years above those three in terms of quality. I've now listened to more than 300 musicals, and Nine is easily one of the most beautiful set of songs I've ever heard. It's also a very daring musical, in that the cast consisted of one man, 21 women, and some little boys. (Which probably makes it hard to revive and hard for regional theatre to perform, which is a shame.)
Yeston burst onto the scene with this, his first Broadway musical, at exactly the wrong time; despite the show's many Tonys and long run, he was overshadowed in the public eye by Cats and generally dogged by ALW throughout the 1980s (especially around their different adaptations of Phantom of the Opera; did you even know there was an alternate version?). As a result, he has only three and a half musicals to his credit and is a respectable but uneven composer.
Nine starts with a bang, with an iridescent overture that rapidly became one of my favorites: a chorus of women la-la'ing in rich harmony. For this overture alone you should buy the CD. But for God's sake, don't pass up the rest of the songs! "Be Italian" and "Folies Bergeres" are the showstoppers of the bunch; "Unusual Way" is the beauty (though many of the songs are extremely beautiful). "A Call from the Vatican" is hilariously seductive. "Getting Tall" is as poignant a statement about growing up as I've ever heard. The fantasy/movie songs tend to be raucous and funny. The lyrics are capable and occasionally quite fine but don't always live up to the music, being a bit repetitive and simple. That being said, they're a damn sight better than the shopping lists Peter Stone would provide for Titanic.
The performances, uniformly fine, enhance the songs as well:
- Raul Julia, that fine actor, had a feel for musical comedy (expressed in, among other shows, Two Gentleman of Verona and Your Own Thing as a replacement). He was nominated for three Tonys during his career on Broadway, though he never won one. His voice is strong and sure, if not classically gorgeous, and full of character. My favorite moments include his "Guido's Song," in which he sings of wanting to meet another one of himself and pretends to hold a conversation between himself and himself, and his anger and frustration in "I Can't Make This Movie," when he bitterly reprises part of "Not Since Chaplin." Of course, he found his greatest success in movies, but one wishes he'd hung around the musical stage a bit longer--and one wonders whether, if he was still alive, he would have eventually returned.
- Karen Akers delivers a lovely, subdued performance as a woman who dearly loves her husband but is wounded deeply by his behavior. Her "My Husband Makes Movies," delivered to a reporter for an American magazine, conveys weary betrayal, love, and resignation--an impressively deep combination. She adds dignificed anger to the mix in "Be On Your Own." Why hasn't this woman been in more musicals?
- Anita Morris's great seduction scene, "A Call from the Vatican," has become one of the musical theatre's classic moments. I wish I could have seen it on stage--Carla, singing a song of passion and arousal to Guido over the phone, who has to pretend he's being contacted by the Vatican because Luisa is right there. Yet when she breaks up with Guido, she's all business, and a little shallow. Nice characterizations! See also The Magic Show.
- Okay, I haven't seen 8 1/2 but I know that Saraghina the whore was supposed to be ugly yet somehow fascinating. Learning this made me appreciate Kathi Moss more. She's not a "pretty" singer at all, is indeed offkey more than once, but her rough, deep voice is absolutely appropriate to the character. It helps that she gets one of the showstoppers to sing!
- There's something about Cameron Johann's rendition of "Getting Tall" that brings me to tears. He's got a sweet if slightly uncertain voice; he projects a great deal of sincerity, yet also has an air of wisdom about him that allows his character (little Guido) to gently lecture older Guido on the importance of "getting tall" (growing up).
- Liliane Montevecchi, who apparently was a Yeston/Tune favorite (she also appeared in Grand Hotel), is sort of a "professional Frenchwoman." I rather like her voice, but I believe she's one of those love/hate performers that people tend to find grating.
This is a terrible "booklet," one of the worst I've ever seen--and for a musical of this quality! The "booklet" is really just a folded foursquare piece of paper (so it has eight "panes," four on either side). Two full panes are taken up with a wonderful picture: Guido standing over nine women, all in black, a striking and memorable picture that I'd love a poster of. The front "pane" (when the thing is folded) is the CD cover; the back "pane" has the blurriest goddamn credits I've ever seen, with teeny-tiny off-white-on-black font that has been rendered totally unreadable. I got most of my technical information from the CD itself. That leaves the four "panes" on the back of the paper, which contain (again in this annoying off-white-on-black type, though large enough to read this time) a list of songs and the actors (not the characters) who sang them, a short and useless plot synopsis that does not fully explain where the songs belong in the show (nor the important plot point that many of the songs describe fantasy sequences), and a whole bunch of thank-yous to a number of individuals (including Federico Fellini) and the orchestra members. There is no list of characters except for the caption under the picture, and no indication of when this show opened or where, or how many performances. Indeed, except for the picture, this is a shameful booklet that does a huge disservice to the musical.
One of the great American musicals of the 1980s, and one of the all-time great adult ones, Nine is an extraordinary work that deserves a place in all Broadway collections. Fans of Raul Julia who aren't aware of his Broadway work are urged to get it. It would also be of interest to you if you've seen the movie 8 1/2.
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