Volume II, Issue II Summer 2003

Tacky musical displays mental age of 'Nine'

Review by Lucy Komisar

Book by Arthur Kopit, music and lyrics by Maury Yeston, adaptation from the Italian by Mario Fratti

Directed by David Leveaux

Eugene O'Neill Theatre
230 W. 49 St.
New York
Through January 4


“Nine," which unaccountably won a few Tony and Drama Desk awards when it opened in 1982 and collected even more of them this year, is a tacky, boring invention which may be as close to soft-core porn as you can put on Broadway – porn requiring that it be not only vulgar but also stupid. I didn't see the original, so I don't know how much the crude direction by David Leveaux is to blame.

The putative plot by Arthur Kopit – allegedly inspired by Fellini's "8 1/2" – is that movie director Guido Contini (Antonio Banderas) is blocked on devising the script for his ninth film for which he has signed a contract. He's distraught, moving toward a nervous breakdown, and begins reviewing his life, thinking about his messy relations with women, particularly, at the moment, his wife, mistress, leading lady (a former lover), and his producer. Contini's imagining is superficial, salacious and self-indulgent. The show is often embarrassing in its coarseness.

Picking up the hoary (forgive the pun) popular porno fantasy, we see Guido as a child being spanked by a whore (Myra Lucretia Taylor), who shakes her breasts in his face. She then gives him a sacramental medal and pours out red sand from a silver chalice. Does this mean Guido was abused by a nun? At one point his ex-lovers sing their rendition of the Mass.


Later, we find that Guido was a mama's boy. Could this be the reason that when Carla (Jane Krakowski) arrives, lowered head-first from the ceiling, he grabs at her breasts? Carla, a slutty-looking blonde in a see-through outfit, engages in some popular soft-porn dalliances with the lower part of her body.

You wonder what Guido Contini really thinks of women. The look on Banderas' face when the first gaggle of females appears suggests that he has a stomach ache. Banderas can sing, but he's a one-dimensional actor.

The lyrics, for which awards were made, are inane. The words of the opening "Overture Delle Donne" – it means "of the women" – are "La la la la la." How's that for clever?

The only really interesting character is Luisa Contini, Guido's wife, who is very smart and wears horn-rimmed glasses which, one assumes, goes with being sexless, though Mary Stuart Masterson is anything but. Her performance of "My husband makes movies" is a sensitive, evocative number. Finally, there's a real person in the play.

There are a few stabs at wit. A lady in a black leather jumpsuit is introduced as writing for Cahiers du Cinema under the name Robespierre. (Alas, few in the audience got that.) Dancer Chita Rivera plays the cronish producer Liliane La Fleur, and she does a lively imitation of Edith Piaf at the Follies Bergeres, even growling her r's. But when Rivera as Piaf starts talking to the audience, silliness reigns; she could lose the patter.

A 17th Century-style opera about Casanova – our hero having fantasies – done in ersatz Baroque is rather appealing, but ends on a low note when the producer threatens to castrate him. At one point, Contini admits that his body is nearing 40 but his mind is nearing 10. One could say the same about the general mental age of the show.

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