Saturday, April 9, 2011

Review: Right ingredients don't gel in TMP play 'Nine'

The News Tribune, April 8, 2011

The musical “Nine,” based on Fellini’s classic film “81/2,” is playing at Tacoma Musical Playhouse. It has everything going for it one could reasonably expect of a modern musical – yet it is oddly less than engaging.

Wonderful songs by Maury Yeston blend operatic and musical theater traditions. The stage is filled with beautiful women who musically tell the tale of a famous movie producer and his many paramours. There is humor, tragedy and spectacle, but it all left me strangely unaffected. Frankly, I found myself simply not caring about Guido Contini and his women.

The original Broadway production starring Raul Julia won five Tony Awards, including best musical. The 2003 revival with Antonio Banderas as Guido captured the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical. Then there was the movie version in 2009 with Daniel Day Lewis, Penelope Cruz and even the great Sophia Loren – and promotions that played heavily on the film’s sex appeal.

Yet with all of that, it falls flat.

The story is revealed through Guido’s reminiscence and hallucination. He is approaching midlife and about to lose his wife and his creativity as he tries desperately to come up with an idea for another film.

Rafe Wadleigh is a fine actor, but in the Sunday matinee I attended, he walked through the role of Guido without putting his heart into it. Even in the pseudo sex scenes, he lacked fire. I’ve admired his previous performances in “South Pacific” and “Guys and Dolls,” and he has a strong voice that carries nicely, but he did strain on a few notes throughout this show.

With one leading man and 20 women on stage, none of the women have very large roles, but Maria Valenzuela as Guido’s wife, Luisa, carried much of the show on her shoulders. Even just standing by while others took the spotlight, she was a strong presence. As a concert soloist who has performed with the Tacoma Symphony Orchestra, Valenzuela is an outstanding singer. She has a full, clear voice. Unlike so many singers these days, she enunciates beautifully.

Iris Elton is a sultry Carla (Guido’s current mistress) with a throaty voice.

Lisa Wright Thiroux is precious as the bawdy prostitute Sarraghina, and the complicated tambourine sequence she teaches adult Guido and young Guido (Curtis Ganung) is joyful.

Kat Dollarhide plays Guido’s mother with poise and dignity.

Alison Monda’s considerable talents are wasted in the small role of the screenwriter Stephanie Necrophorus.

Kudos as usual to John Chenault for his lighting and to Jeff Stvrtecky for musical direction.

This play is advertised as not suitable for children younger than 13 because of language and sexual situations, both of which are mild.

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through April 17. No performance April 15.
Where: Tacoma Musical Playhouse at The Narrows Theatre, 7116 Sixth Ave., Tacoma
Tickets: $20-$27
Information: 253-565-6867,

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