Contini’s Ladies Make Showtunes’ NINE Sublime – Jay Irwin BroadwayWorld.com

wholecastphotoI’ve never quite understood why Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit’s “Nine” is so under produced regionally. It’s fun, flirty and sexy with some of the most stunningly beautiful songs that unfortunately too few are familiar with. It could be that in order to produce it correctly you need one killer ensemble of women (and Guido of course) who can handle the piece. Well, as is their way, Showtunes Theatre Company has taken this underdone gem and dusted it off and thankfully found that stellar ensemble to tackle it in their current concert version. Too bad it’s only for two performances.

Based on Fellini’s film “8 1/2”, “Nine” examines the life of Italian film director Guido Contini (Jose Gonzales) through the many women surrounding him. There’s his Mother (Cheryl Massey-Peters), his wife Luisa (Beth DeVries), his lover Carla (Taryn Darr), his star Claudia (Danielle Barnum), and his producer Liliane (Anne Allgood). As he is turning 40 the childlike Guido is desperate to keep all of these women happy and in his life. So he’s fled to the Spa to get away from demands on him and to try and actually write the new script he has promised Liliane. But when Carla shows up in Venice as well and Liliane arrives demanding the new film, Guido retreats even further into himself and is confronted by nine year old Guido (Christian West) who keeps showing him how he got to this place including how his obsession for women began with his visit to the local prostitute Sarraghina (Candice Donehoo) as a child.

Director David Hunter Koch has assembled quite the amazing cast and kept the pace of this concert version of the show clipping along. Gonzales is quite good as the aging man-child and makes him likable even as he does some not so likable things. But it’s the soaring voices of this army of women surrounding him that makes this show work as well as it does. Even from the initial Overture which consists of Guido conducting the women who sing the score with a series of lala’s you can tell the power this women’s chorus contains. All the women were stunning but there were some insanely beautiful standouts. DeVries tackles the role of the cheated on wife with tons of heart and that emotion seethes into her songs especially her heartbreaking “Be On Your Own”. Darr’s sultry and sexy “A Call from the Vatican” practically stopped the show especially with that final note that humans normally can’t make. And I think she managed to raise the temperature inside Benaroya at least twenty degrees. And Donehoo’s beautiful and rousing “Be Italian” was not only gorgeous but totally conveyed the path that Guido would take.

A dazzling piece with a superb ensemble and backed up by a fantastic orchestra led by Music Director Mark Rabe. It really doesn’t get much better. I just hope you were lucky enough to see it as it’s earned a vivacious YAY with my three letter rating system. Just a shame I’m telling you this after it’s already over. Sorry.

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