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The Arlington Players Nine

By • Oct 11th, 2011 • Category: Reviews
Nine
The Arlington Players
Kenmore Middle School, Arlington, VA
Through October 21st
2:30 with intermission
$20/$15 Seniors and Juniors
Reviewed October 8th, 2011

No mistake about it, The Arlington Players’ production of Nine is award bait. Every aspect of the show succeeds at a very high level. TAP has put together a large ensemble of singing actors who produce a highlight reel of one top-notch performance of a number after another, accompanied by an orchestra that is spot-on and supported by excellent technical theater work.

Nine is a musical spin on Fellini’s film 8 1/2, focusing on the elaborate professional and personal mid-life crisis of a famous movie director, Guido Contini. Aside from Guido, all the other adult characters are the women in his life: wife, mistress, favorite actress, producer, mother, etc. In a very unusual way – one that would likely not have occurred to the authors of either piece – Nine creates a structural issue reminiscent of Sondheim’s Company. In both cases, the male lead is a pivot around which the rest of the cast revolves. As the couples in Company are more interesting than Bobby, so the women of Nine fascinate more than Guido.

This is no knock on Eric Kennedy, who brings finely honed acting and singing skills to the role. As written, Guido is something of a hollow man, one about whom it is not easy to care deeply. Kennedy brings sufficient magnetism to the part to make it possible to imagine why so many women find Guido compelling.

But it is the women who carry the show. Evelyn Trester as Luisa, Guido’s wife, gives a musically and dramatically powerful rendition of Luisa’s breaking up song, “Be on Your Own.” During “The Grand Canal,” an overly long ensemble piece portraying Guido’s disastrous attempt at an all-too-autobiographical movie production number, Trester sits stage left, having no lines, subtly dominating the scene by her reactions to what she sees.

Not all the numbers in Nine are first-rate Broadway songs, but “Unusual Way” is arguably the best thing Muary Yeston ever wrote. Anne Marie Pinto, as Claudia, sings the number delicately, conveying the complexity of her relationship with Guido. Lauren Palmer Keisling, as Carla, Guido’s drama-queen mistress, makes a smoking-hot vamp in “A Call from the Vatican.”

Lorraine Magee, as Liliane La Fleur, Guido’s tres formidable producer, dynamically leads the “Follies Bergeres” ensemble number in a near-baritone voice, during which Montana Brown, as critic Stephanie Necrophorus, pops in with some Gilbert and Sullivan-like patter. Kristen Magee’s Sarraghina, described in the program as “a voluptuous whore,” gives the nine-year old Guido an unforgettable preview of the sensual life in “Ti Voglio Bene/Be Italian.”

Nine is a strong ensemble show, and the singing and dancing of the entire ensemble is one more virtue of this production. The choreography is well conceived and precisely executed and, with the exception of less than optimal energy in “Be Italian,” the group nails its numbers with élan. In any show in which the ensemble features prominently, it is always desirable for ensemble members to create distinct individual characters, and in this the ensemble succeeds admirably.

The costumes for the women are varied and colorful, going for individual looks rather than for a uniform style. With the exception of Claudia’s unfortunate dress in the “Unusual Way” scene, the clothes are attractive and flattering to the actresses. The sound design is effective, beginning with the cacophony of women’s voices at the top of the show. The sound is not able to avoid some of the standard issues with miked shows, like the uncertain directionality of some lines (where is that actor whose voice you just heard over the speaker system?) and the contrast between miked soloists and unmiked ensemble members, but the sound operation maintained good balance between orchestra and singers throughout.

The set consists of two groups of Venetian-themed buildings, with various levels and entrances. It is functional and contributes to director/choreographer Lisa Anne Bailey’s effective and well-balanced stage pictures. Likewise, the lighting colors and highlights the actors appropriately, with only the tiniest of bobbles in execution.

This production is located in the theater of Kenmore Middle School in Arlington, while earthquake damage to TAP’s traditional home at Thomas Jefferson Middle School is being repaired. The Kenmore facility is newer and, in this reviewer’s opinion, superior to the Thomas Jefferson theater. TAP might consider making the move permanent, if the Kenmore facility is available.

Director’s Notes

Nine is based on Federico Fellini’s semi-autobiographical film 8 1/2 . It focuses on file director Guido Contini dreading his 40th birthday and a midlife crisis blocking his creative impulses and entangling him in a web of romantic difficulties. Fellini had entitled his film 8 1/2 in recognition of his prior body of work, which included six full-length films, two short films, and one film that he co-directed. Maury Yeston’s (Music and Lyrics) title for the musical adaptation adds another half-credit to Fellini’s output. Yeston called the musical Nine, explaining that if you add music to 8 1/2, “it’s like half a number more.”

When I first saw a production of this over 20 years ago with Raul Julia, I was mesmerized by the opportunities it presented for the women and how unique and sensual each character’s performance was as it was shared with the audience. As I’ve matured, the story, the women, the amazing music and the chance for one man to share such an acting and singing tour de force overwhelmed me and I wanted to be a passenger on that ride.

I’m grateful to The Arlington Players; to a creative, flexible and focused staff and finally to a talented, thinking, delightful cast who joined me on this ride. Ladies- Brava! My little men-Bravo! Eric-my respect and my thanks- Ti Voglio Bene-Bellissimo! Si prega di godersi lo spettacolo! Please enjoy the show!

Photo Gallery

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Photos provided by The Arlington Players

The Cast

  • Guido Contini: Eric Kennedy
  • Guido at an early age/schoolmate: Colin Cech
  • Guido at an early age/(U/S)/schoolmate: Eli Wassertzug: 10/16
  • Luisa Contini: Evelyn Trester
  • Carla Albanese: Lauren Palmer Kiesling
  • Claudia Nardi: Anne Marie Pinto
  • Guido’s Mother: Barbara Porter
  • Liliane La Fleur: Lorraine Magee
  • Lina Darling: Lindsey McClenathan
  • Stephanie Necrophorus: Montana Brown
  • Our Lady of the Spa: Cassandra Walker
  • Mama Maddalena: Karen Hayes
  • Sarraghina: Kristen Magee
  • Ensemble: Anna Miller, Jenny Rauch, Kelly Shores, Liz Sutton, Kristen Otto

Production Staff

  • Producer: Barbara Esquibel
  • Director & Choreographer: Lisa Anne Bailey
  • Music Director & Conductor Paul Nasto
  • Co-Choreographer: Andy Izquierdo
  • Stage Manager: Joan Lada
  • Master Carpenter: Peter Finkel
  • Set Design: Amanda Acker
  • Set Painting: Amanda Acker
  • Set Dressing: Joanna Van Sickle
  • Properties: Joanna Van Sickle
  • Lighting Design: Ryan Desmond
  • Co-Sound Design: Keith Bell
  • Co-Sound Design: Drew Moberley
  • Costume Design: Kevin Lane
  • Hair Design: Kat Brais
  • Makeup Design: Kat Brais
  • Senior Assistant Stage Manager: Meghann Peterlin
  • Assistant Stage Manager: Carolyn Lyons, Steven Yates
  • Dialect Coach: David Segal
  • Set Construction Crew: William Kolodrubetz, Dick Garey, Arthur Pleasants, Amanda Acker, Mike deBlois, Bill Wisniewski, Rebecca Meyerson, Adrian L. Steel Jr., Bob Timmerman, Damon Hill,
  • Nolan Hughes, Scott Drew,
  • Drew Moberley
  • Costume Crew: Bev Benda, Kevin Lane, Lorraine Magee, Kit Selbey, Jean Schlichting
  • Charge Painters: Amanda Acker, Barbara Esquibel,
  • Katie Lewis, Karinn Cologne, Nikki Hoffpauir
  • Wardrobe: Cody Boehm, McKenna Kelly,
  • Wendy Boehm, Kevin Lane
  • Stage Crew: Jeremy Austin, Nolan Hughes, Jonathan Mittaz, James Villarrubia
  • Light Board Operator: Steve Lada
  • Light Crew: Ian MacInnes, Matthew MacInnes
  • Follow Spot Operators: Adrian L. Steel Jr.
  • Sound Crew: David Correia
  • Auditions: Karen Batra, Dina Green, Nikki Hoffpauir, Drew Moberley, Gina Tomkus,
  • Arthur Rodger, Roy Tomkus
  • Photography: Peter Hill and Michael deBlois
  • Program: James Villarrubia
  • Logo Design: James Villarrubia
  • Box Office: Dina Green, Nikki Hoffpauir, Barbara Esquibel, James Villarrubia, Karinn Cologne, Kristin Visaggio, Scott Drew
  • Opening Night Party: Karinn Cologne and Amanda Acker

Disclaimer: The Arlington Players provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review. TAP also purchased advertising on the ShowBizRadio.net web site, which did not influence this review.

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has been an active participant in the Washington-area community theater scene since his arrival in town in 1975.

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