Lilianne La Fleur recounts the “Follies Bergères.”/Photo Courtesy of The Mimes and Mummers
The Mimes and Mummers have transformed Collins auditorium into an Italian spa, on which they relate a story of romance and artistic expression. Their production of Nine showcases outstanding singing and technical talent, to make a show for the ages.
Based on Federico Fellini’s film 8½, the musical tells the story of Guido Contini, an Italian film director just having turned 40 who is in a creative slump. To clear his head, he and his wife Luisa go on a spa vacation. This trip is far from relaxing, however, as he is dogged by his mistress, his muse and his producer, among others. As he works to make his next masterpiece, these dueling voices play havoc with his head.
This interiorized plot is engagingly brought to life by the show’s creative team. Director Robert W. Schneider has made the interesting choice to have the entire cast seated onstage for the whole show; this risky proposition pays off, as it brings Guido’s inner struggle out into the open.
The talented orchestra, conducted by Sean Forte, plays Maury Yeston’s score with skill and relish. The inventive choreography showcases challenging, sexy routines. The set by Pat McCarthy and Christopher Pedro is another deceptively simple Mimes creation; a bunch of white cubes and raised platform do not seem like much of a set, but they make it work. The lighting by Emily Pandise and Brendan Polke is well-deployed, particularly in a scene in which Guido has a “conversation” with a cardinal. The one issue on opening night was a possibly malfunctioning smoke machine that blurred some of the action on stage.
The ensemble is a parade of tremendous talent. Michael Dahlgren shows the inner torture of Guido as he works on this cathartic film, particularly well-expressed in “Guido’s Song” in Act I. Cecelia Hanifin lays bare the inner pain of being married to a womanizing artist in her solo number “My Husband Makes Movies.” Sally Beriont does fine acting as Guido’s muse Claudia, though she uses a bit too much of an operatic vibrato in her song “Unusual Way.” Becca Hare is a caring presence in flashback as Guido’s mother, who performs the title song. Elle Crane has some great lines as a critic brought in to help Guido’s creative process.
A few sultry divas must be spotlighted. Pam Zazzarino, as Guido’s comely mistress, makes “A Call from the Vatican” pop with sexual desire. Tara Minogue is irresistible as Guido’s producer Liliane, and her audience interaction during “Folies Bergeres” is hilarious (as her threatening sidekick Lina Darling
, Mara Santilli gets some big laughs too). As Sarraghina, a whore from Guido’s youth, Alexis Quattrini gives fiery lessons in love; the use of tambourines in her number is particularly inventive.
Nine is the best production the Mimes have mounted in the last two years. The irresistible score and talent on- and backstage will make you want to “Be Italian” no matter where you’re from.