Sunday, August 05, 2007


‘NINE’ is the right number at Cain Park

‘NINE, THE MUSICAL,’ which is now on stage at the Alma Theatre at Cain Park, is a challenging undertaking. The script requires a director who not only understands the personality and idiosyncracies of Federico Fellini, the famous film director upon whom the story is based, but also has a fine command of stage techniques. There is a demand for an extraordinary choreographer, a cast of 14 very talented women, a male lead who has to control the stage, and a young boy who carries a great deal of the play’s meaning on his tiny shoulders.

Local theatre-goers need not worry. The Cain Park production is not only up to the task, but far exceeds expectations. The show is in the competent hands of director Vicki Bussert, choreographer Martin Cespedes and musical director Nancy Gantose-Maier. It stars Fabio Polanco, who is surrounded by a remarkable set of talented performers.

‘NINE, THE MUSICAL’ has a book by Arthur Kopit. Kopit, is probably best known for his 1960 play, ‘OH DAD, POOR DAD, MAMA'S HUNG YOU IN THE CLOSET AND I'M FEELING' SO SAD.’ An avant-garde writer, his style has been dubbed “pseudoclassical tragifarce.” He was a perfect choice to write about Federico Fellini, whose life was much like an absurdist comedy/drama. Fellini was a genius who ad libbed his way through many of his often abstract, but critically acclaimed films. He was also a man who seemingly had little understanding of long term personal or professional commitments. As Guido Contini (Fellini’s name in the play) sings, “I wouldn’t be lonely if I could be only with you…and you…and you.”

It’s early 1960. Contini (Fellini) is facing his fortieth birthday and is in the midst of a midlife crisis which is blocking his creative impulses. In addition, he is entangled in a web of difficulties involving his wife, a producer, his mistress, a protege, and his deceased mother.

Through a series of daydream sequences, often interrupted by Guido's waking thoughts, the audience gets a look into the mind and creative process of a man who many consider to be not only a genius, but a troubled soul. As deadlines and relationship problems fill his thoughts, Guido retreats deeper into his reflections until the past and present become a single blend of love, hurt, comedy, and drama.

The Broadway production, directed by Tommy Tune and starring Raúl Juliá, opened in 1982 and ran for 729 performances. It won five Tony awards, including best musical. A 2003 revival ran for 283 performances, won two Tony awards, including that for best revival of a musical. The cast included Antonio Banderas, Mary Stuart Masterson, Chita Rivera and Jane Krakowski.

Vicki Bussert has a talent for making the “small” play into a great piece of theatre. Such past Cain Park productions as ‘BAT BOY,’ ‘tick, tick...Boom!’ and ‘SIDE SHOW’ were all examples of fine, fine theatre. She knows how to use intimate spaces like the Alma Theatre to get the audience totally involved in the goings on. She makes ‘NINE’ a must see production.

Bussert is aided by Martin Cespedes, the premiere choreographer on the Cleveland theatre scene. The winner of numerous Times Theatre Awards, Cespedes has a talent for seeing choreographic possibilities that fit both the dancers, no matter their level of talent, while fulfilling the needs of the script. His staging of “Folies Bergeres” is nothing short of spectacular. It’s worth going to see the show to experience this one number.

Musical director Nancy Gantose-Maier and her orchestra were in fine tune. Ross Borski’s scenic and lighting designs were excellent and Terry Pieritz’s black and white costumes set a perfect tone.

And, then there was the cast. Even though the show has clear leading roles, it is, in reality, an ensemble vehicle which requires every performer to be of top quality. This cast is of top quality!

Fabio Polanco was properly obsessively driven as Contini. He has a strong singing voice and acting skills to match. He does not portray the Fellini character, he occupies it.

Maryann Nagel, the grande dame of Cleveland musical theatre, was her usual excellent self as Lilliane LaFleur, Contini’s producer. She was the soul of the spectacular “Folies Bergeres” number, walking down the runway of life with confidence and a flair.

Tracee Patterson, another local acting celeb, was compelling as Luisa, Contini’s long suffering wife. Her “Be On Your Own,” was emotionally wrenching, while “My Husband Makes Movies,” was well interpreted.

Trista Moldovan (Carla) gave a fine sensual rendition of “A Call From The Vatican;” Cassandra Goldbach (Sarraghina) sang a powerful “Ti Voglio Bene/Be Italian;” and, though she often feigned Claudia by posing and posturing rather than experiencing the feelings and thoughts of the character, Joan Ellison effectively sang “A Man Like You.”

Aric Generette Floyd almost stole the show with his performance as the young Guido. Aric has a mobile face, stayed in character throughout the production, and performed his lines with meaning and clarity. This is one talented young man.

Only “The Grand Canal Film” sequence was questionable. The film, which was produced by Kasumi, was overly long. Though it attempted to duplicate the choppy, segmented feel of Fellini, it failed to do so. It was overly repetitive and missed it’s mark by being more comic than absurd.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Cain Park’s “NINE, THE MUSICAL’ is a must see for anyone wanting to experience thoughtful musical theatre at its finest. Those wanting pure entertainment would be better guided to Play House Square’s ‘LION KING.’ For the rest...’NINE’S the right number!