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Review: ‘Nine’ comes to life on stage

After seeing "Nine," the musical that opened Thursday night at the Underground, I am thoroughly convinced every woman on the planet should have a tambourine.

After seeing “Nine,” the musical that opened Thursday night at the Underground, I am thoroughly convinced every woman on the planet should have a tambourine.

Director/actor Adam Sippola plays director/actor Guido Contini, whose creative well has run dry and whose love life is quite complicated. When Guido cannibalizes his life to imitate it in his art, his desperate creative machinations end up breaking bad and his life becomes the ruined landscape of the land of Ozymandias.

The film version of this musical based on Federico Fellini’s “8½” had a couple of dazzling product numbers but offered stars instead of characters. This stage version of “Nine” corrects that deficiency.

The cast consists of Guido, young Guido (Sam Buytaert) and fifteen women who serve as a combination Greek chorus and stage crew.

Scenic designer Jeff Brown fliped the Underground seating and stage areas from their standard configuration. A series of white curtains were creatively rearranged to set the stage for each scene.

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After his voice, Sippola has always relied primarily on his hands to create characters and lend visual emphasis to his singing, which puts the exuberant and effusive Guido right in his wheelhouse. But Sippola invests more in his eyes than he ever has before and allows us to understand Gudio on his own terms.

Before the myriad conflicts come to a head, each of the women in Guido’s life get a song reflecting their respective roles: wife, mother, producer, critic, mistress, muse or memory.

The actresses playing the key women in Guido’s life are a bit younger than their characters, and that decade difference comes into play in a musical this sophisticated.

As wife Luisia, Louisa Scorich best captures the emotional depths of her songs, with her idealized vision of their public and private lives in “My Husband Makes Movies,” and the cathartic “Be On Your Own.” As mistress Carla, Lisa Holman brings some operatic flourishes to her telephonic seduction of Guido in “A Call from the Vatican.”

The big number “Be Italian” takes its time revving, before the memory of Saraghina (Nicole Sippola) leads the ladies through the captivating tambourine routine choreographed by Amber Burns. This production finally made me appreciate why “The Bells of St. Sebastian” is the act break.

Maddison Nachtsheim as Claudia, Guido’s muse, has one of the strongest voices in the cast, but when she sings in “A Man Like You/Unusual Way” her Italian accent disappears and there are only hints of the years of experiences and heartaches behind the lyrics.

In “Folies Bergeres,” Ellie Martin’s Madame La Fleur has fun working the crowd, and I liked Hannah Smart’s caustic counterpoint as the snarky critic Stephanie Necrophorous. I also liked the running gag of the complete indifference of Lina Darling (Mary Myers) to Guido, and a tip of the beret to audience member “Da-veed.”

There are sporadic sound problems, which create several black holes where you simply cannot understand what is being said or sung. But when the ladies of “Nine” unleash their voices, it sounds great, as does the small orchestra conducted by music director Kate Kulas.

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If you go

What: “Nine: The Musical”
Where: The Underground, 506 W. Michigan St.
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays until Aug. 20.
Tickets: $20 adults, $18 students
For information: (218) 733-7555 or duluthunderground.org

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