A lot of people go to musical theater for diversion. They look for escapism, an easily digestible and hummable songs.
There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, and there are a ton of truly great musicals that give that deliver exactly the type of entertainment that appeal to that type of audience.
“Nine” is not one of them.
The 1982 musical, with songs by Maury Yeston and a book by Arthur Kopit is dense and complicated, both narratively and psychologically. Real characters share the stage and interact with ghosts memories. A 40-year-old man gets advice from his 9-year-old self. The main character’s life seems to meld with the character of the film he’s directing. It’s difficult to follow, and it’s meant to be. It demands constant attention and analysis
The show, which is based on based on the Federico Fellini film “8 1/2,” won the Tony Award for best Musical in 1982, and it’s currently on the Stone Hall stage at the Manatee Performing Arts Center in a production directed by Cory Boyas.
There’s a lot to recommend the production, including some great performances
There’s a lot to recommend the production, including some great performances. Foremost among them is that of Omar Montes as Guido, the director and the only adult male in the cast. Montes is on stage almost every moment of the show, in a role that’s obviously demanding from both a signing and an acting perspective, and he makes it look easy.
Among the many excellent performers from the women in the cast are those of Melanie Bierweiler as as Guido’s wife, Christina Capeheart as his long-time mistress, MariAnne Hernandez as his mother, Ellen Kleinschmidt as his producer, a former Folies Bergere performer. The songs are difficult (you don’t have to know much about music to be able to tell that) and the singers handle them flawlessly. The ensemble work is especially impressive.
The five-piece pit band directed by William Coleman sounds much bigger than it is. Caleb Carrier’s set, not quite abstract but not quite representational, is minimal and neutral, and moves around the stage to become rooms and houses and even a beach, Because of the limited set Joseph P. Oshry’s lighting design takes on a more overt role. and moves the mood from the serene and dream-like atmosphere of most of the show to the Candyland-colored movie set in the second act. Countless costumes by Mackenzie Vaughan enhance both the story and the mood.
A lot of the songs, none of which you’re likely to be familiar with, are quite beautiful, others are fun and funny.
It’s full of great elements and moments, but they don’t add up to an especially satisfying evening.
It’s full of great elements and moments, but they don’t add up to an especially satisfying evening. Perhaps the biggest problem is that the main character is essentially a really horrible person who cheats on his wife and who uses women for a variety of reasons. It’s difficult to get emotional invested in the supposedly tragic story about his apparent downfall when you kind of hope he gets what he deserves.
It’s also hard to follow that story, and in ways that aren’t intended by the writers. You need to be able to follow every moment of what’s going on, but much of the story and the emotional content unfolds in the lyrics, which are often very hard to discern. And even the dialogue can be hard to decipher because there’s often music playing while the actors are singing.
In ends up being exceedingly admirable but not especially involving. Whether that’s enough to make the show rewarding is a matter of taste and the audience’s artistic priorities
Details: Through Jan. 28, Stone Hall at the Manatee Performing Arts Center, 502 Third Ave. W., Bradenton. 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. $22-$32 plus service charge. 941-748-5875, manateeperformingartscenter.com.