By Dale King
The task of nearly every theatrical protagonist, it seems, is to struggle. And so it is with famed Italian movie producer Guido Contini, the lead character in the Tony Award-winning musical, Nine, now playing at the Broward Stage Door Theater in Margate.
With Guido, though, struggles come in multiples. Internally, he wrangles with his own mind. Externally, tussles involve run-ins with real people and those who are just momentarily reborn figments from his dusty imagination; people who have left hollow tracings in his mind and painful scars on his heart.
How else would you describe a man who encounters the spirit of his dead mother who tells him, bluntly: “Your film is terrible and I believe you are going to die?”
Based on Federico Fellini’s Academy Award-winning film 8½, Nine focuses on celebrated, but highly troubled, film director Guido Contini, who is dealing with a mid-life crisis, numerous faltering relationships, including a failing marriage, and is making increasingly desperate and futile attempts to write a script for his next movie. That film is particularly important because if it succeeds, it will relieve the ignominy of having turned out a series of box office flops.
The original Broadway production of Nine won five Tony Awards in 1982, including Best Musical. What makes Nine succeed locally – it certainly is one of Stage Door’s most exceptional productions this season – can be described only in superlatives.
Paul O’Donnell, a singer/actor/dancer for 30 years, is excellent as the hopeless and feckless producer, Contini. O’Donnell has finally found the spotlight after more than three years of working behind the scenes at the Stage Door. And his arrival at center stage is welcome.
The show itself is a winner, and so is the cast – perhaps the best ensemble of singers, dancers and actors to grace the proscenium at the Margate theatrical center in some time. Producer/director Kevin Black, whose homegrown shows are often presented at the Stage Door, assists with choreography, and the very capable Dave Nagy is in charge of music.
Directing his third consecutive show at Stage Door is Peter J. Loewy, who also directed Nine at his own Forum Theatre in Metuchen, N.J. “The show has a soaring score by Maury Yeston, and the source material, Fellini’s autobiographical film ‘8½,’ is a fascinating look at one man’s retrospective journey through his life, his career, and at the women he loved, loves, and hopes to love again.”
Music adds an elegant component, often elaborating on or underscoring themes and events. The acting is top-notch, only outdone, perhaps, by the cast’s overarching vocal qualities. The songs tend to stop the play’s motion and make the audience ponder the depth of what is happening on stage.
Nine forces the protagonist to face a variety of paths converging in a directionless wasteland. “My body’s nearing 40; my mind is nearing 10,” he sings in “Guido’s Song.” “My Husband makes Movies” is wearily rendered by his wife, Luisa (Elizabeth Sackett), as if his job is too boring to discuss.
The stage fills with actors – most of them women – representing Guido’s friends and associates, but mostly lovers, as well as the prostitute who stole his virginity on a beach when he was nine. Young Guido (Jack Rodman and Giustino Garcia) recalls his encounter with Saraghina (Kat Gold), to whom he went as a curious child, creeping out of his Catholic boarding school, St. Sebastian, to ask her about love. Her answer: be yourself (“Ti Voglio Bene/ Be Italian”).
The memory of the dance she taught him on that night of passion echoes back to the 40-year-old Guido – along with recollections of its terrible consequences —punishment by the nuns and rejection by his appalled mother (Dalia Aleman), told in the boy’s anguished song, “The Bells of St. Sebastian.”
Back in the present, Guido is on a beach once again, this time with Claudia (Victoria Lauzun), the film star and muse from his greatest celluloid successes. Now, she refuses to accept a role in the unscripted film. Claudia lets him down with the song, “Unusual Way,” perhaps the loveliest and most haunting melody in this show.
By the end, the voice of a child is all that’s left to save Guido – if he will allow it.
Nine runs through June 11 at the Broward Stage Door Theatre, 8036 Sample Road, Margate. Tickets are $38-$42; $16 student tickets are available. They can be purchased at the box office at 954-344-7765 or online at www.stagedoorfl.org.