“Nine” – Phoenix Theatre

This review aired on KBAQ April 18, 2011


Phoenix Theatre
Phoenix, AZ

The recent movie version of the 1982 Broadway musical “Nine” failed to capture and make viable the intriguing story of fictional Italian film director Guido Contini’s mid-life crisis that threatens his movie career and impacts the 21 women who play critical roles in his decadent life.

So it’s nice to have “Nine” back on stage in an opulent, magnificently staged, and stunningly cast version at Phoenix Theatre.  In fairness, this Arthur Kopit/Maury Yeston musical based on Fellini’s film “8½” won’t appeal to everyone.  At Friday’s opening, there were many vacant seats after the intermission in what began as a capacity crowd, indicating that “Nine’s” unique sophistication lacks universal appeal.

The engaging music and story of Contini’s fractured life results in his bizarre wooing of many women that prompts a needed creative spark stimulating an interesting idea for his next film after three duds.  His loose lifestyle causes problems with his wife, Luisa, and stem from his Mother who brought him up liberally.  He was introduced to sex at a young age by the exuberant prostitute Saraghina.

More details would ruin audience discovery of this smart and sassy story.  The plot’s biographical nature includes Contini’s past and present lovers, his beloved Mother, and his tormented wife.  The only other males in “Nine” are Guido as a 9-year-old boy and a small boys’ chorus.

To bring off this unconventional story, a successful production must be spectacularly staged with artful choreographic ingenuity and be flawlessly cast, all qualities Phoenix Theatre masters beautifully in Michael Barnard’s cleverly fluid staging.  Barnard stages this challenging show with vivid stage pictures that capture the dynamic, ever-changing turns and twists of Contini’s weird life.

Barnard is also blessed with the perfect cast.  All successfully use tricky Italian accents which are always understandable but are each unique while sounding faithful.  Imported star Craig Laurie sings strongly and acts the Contini role with amazing conviction and thoughtful depth.  The women are great from Patti Davis Suarez’s cool, upfront Mother, to Jeannie Shubitz’s overwrought wife, to Kim Manning’s flamingly red-haired film producer Liliane, to Jenny Hintze’s Claudia, and finally to Johanna Carlisle’s lusty Saraghina.

The ever changing unit set is as dynamic as Barnard’s production while plush costumes further paint beautiful impressionistic pictures.  “Nine” is a visual treat.

Phoenix Theatre’s “Nine” is a dazzling production of a tricky musical that certainly won’t appeal to everyone.  But for those who like something unique, different, and fascinating, you couldn’t ask for a better production.  “Nine” continues through May 8.  For tickets, call the Phoenix Theatre box office at 602-254-2151 or order tickets online at www.phoenixtheatre.com.

Grade: A