Little Triangle has delivered a highly polished production of this rarely seen musical.
Michele Lansdown plays La Fleur. Image: Blake Condon.
Inspired by Federico Fellini’s masterpiece film 8 ½, Nine had its original Broadway production in 1982 and Australian audiences enjoyed a landmark memorable production the same year. The thrilling new production by Little Triangle – directed by Alexander Andrews – makes the Seymour Centre’s Reginald Theatre feel twice as big as it really is.
The plot centres around Guido Contini, an Italian film director about to turn 40. He’s facing a midlife crisis, a disintegrating marriage, and pressure from his agent, and he’s remembering and confronting all the influential women in his life. Set in early 1960s Venice, we see Guido’s growing desperation as he fights writer’s block and tries to balance a web of romantic entanglements, all while attempting to complete his latest film. It is a circular narrative: as his life, career and marriage fracture around him, Guido reflects back on what made him, so we see both Guido now at 40 and when he was a young boy of 9 at the beach.
The set design is based on movie reels with otherwise rather minimalist staging but at times lots of carry-on props such as chairs and a dangling phone. The numerous costumes are designed in black and white. Antonio Fernandez leads the magnificent band at the back of the set, whose performance is as exuberant or intensely passionate as necessary.
Madison Lee’s choreography is taut and snappy, with possible references to Chicago and Cabaret, but also including folk dance and a stunning showgirl fan dance number.
The adult Guido – the only man in the production – is portrayed by handsome Andy Leonard as charismatic, powerful, haunted and stressed, almost on the verge of having a nervous breakdown. He handles the unconventional complex harmonies and challenging, staccato lyrics (at times like a Gilbert and Sullivan patter song, at others like the ‘catalogue’ aria from Mozart’s Don Giovanni for example) with enormous aplomb and also dances wonderfully. His younger self is enchantingly portrayed by Oscar Langmar.
The many women in Guido’s life are played by a strong and vibrant ensemble. His mother is splendidly portrayed by Tisha Kelemen – her role is at times quite demanding and operatic in style. His wife Luisa is splendidly played by Tayla Jarrett as an impeccably groomed dark, petite firecracker. Her song, My Husband Makes Movies, shows her exasperation at Guido’s selfishness. We are taken to interval with the explosively sexy Saraghina (Sarah Murr) leading the cast in the whirling and volcanic Ti Voglio Bene (Be Italian) that leaves the audience gasping.
Claudia, a major film star and Guido’s muse, is luminously portrayed by Petronella van Tienen, the only woman in white. Guido needs her for this film but she rejects the role. Guido can’t understand why, failing to see that Claudia also loves him, but wants him to love her as a woman and not a muse. They part, and she wryly names him ‘my charming Casanova’ which leads to Guido feverishly making a stylized film about Casanova. But the film collapses in disarray and his wife Luisa is furious that the trials of her life have been revealed on screen, so she walks out (Be On Your Own).
Guido’s latest mistress, the rather credulous Carla (Caitlin Rotse) who at one point believed Guido would marry her, also leaves, furious and broken-hearted. Guido’s authoritative producer, Liliane La Fleur, is strongly portrayed by Michele Landsdown who leads the cast in a stunning, high-stepping showgirl number.
Is everything a figment of Guido’s fevered imagination? Does his marriage survive?
While the plot could perhaps be viewed as somewhat thin and misogynist, the show is also about love, loss and empowering women. Little Triangle has delivered a highly polished production of this rarely seen musical.
4 stars out of 5 ★★★★
Book by Arthur Kopit
Music & Lyrics by Maury Yeston
Adapted from the Italian by Mario Fratti
Director & Designer: Alexander Andrews
Music Director: Antonio Fernandez
Choreographer: Madison Lee
Producer: Rose McClelland
Lighting Designer: James Wallis
Stage Manager: Christopher Starnawski
Props & Sound Designer: Hayden Rodgers
Music Supervisor: Conrad Hamill
Cast: Andy Leonard, Tayla Jarrett, Petronella van Tienen, Caitlin Rose, Sarah Murr, Tisha Kelemen, Michele Lansdown, Kelly Goddard, Katelin Koprivec, Phoebe Clark, Megan Walshe, Victoria Luxton, Matilda Moran, Maddison Burton, Ellyn Gwillim, Sophie Perkins, Sophia Charters, Amy Humphreys
5-14 September 2019
Seymour Centre, Chippendale NSW