I’ve waited for this one all season.
Second Generation Theatre Company closed its sixth season with an electric production of ‘Nine. ‘ With a book based on Fellini’s film 8/12 and music and lyrics by Maury Yeston, ‘Nine’ is the story of Guido Contini, star filmmaker who is facing his 40th birthday with an urgent need for a hit film. And an equally urgent need to charm every woman he meets while pledging undying love to his knowing wife. Just your typical Italian love story…with a chorus of nuns, one prostitute, and two giggling German visitors.
. . .another triumph for this company.
This is a woman-dominated cast and production team, which makes the subject matter – a philandering man melting down in the pre-#metoo 1960s – all the more poignant. So good to see the women in Buffalo’s theatre community together like this. There’s no irony here: the production is a product of its time. SGT and company have elevated the conversation here.
Director Victoria Perez assembled a near-perfect cast for this. Ben Michael Moran is Guido, wiry, passionate, conflicted, and irresistible, and Moran plays this well. Aimee Walker is his wife Luisa, wise and faithful with a stunningly resonant alto voice, she shows her fierce love for Guido early on with a heartfelt performance of “My Husband Makes Movies.” Walker owns the stage as soon as she steps into the spotlight. Her range of emotion in this piece alone is wistful and protective, and the power behind her voice is amazing. Director Perez had pure gold to work with here: Walker’s posture and stance in every scene is strong, from her walk to her sleek upswept hair, to her elegant attire.
Equally solid is Kelly Copps as Carla, the primary girlfriend. She commands one of the best scenes in the production: in “A Call from the Vatican,” her voice is perfectly controlled as she performs a sultry aerial ballet between two swaths of suspended flowing fabric. She shows her vulnerability in act two’s “Simple.”
Lisa Ludwig is Liliane LaFleur, Guido’s chief investor for the film that he still hasn’t written. While he’s trying to pick a concept out of his head, she knows just what she wants: a song and dance movie that captures the essence of her elegant “ Follies Bergere.” A duel-melody patter piece, Ludwig and Sabrina Kahwaty nail the complex rhythm and precise placement of each lyric. Kahwaty’s voice and articulation is perfection. I love the way she almost spits out the words “a film” as she shows her disdain for Guido’s style. She’s one woman Guido can’t charm.
Lise Harty’s costume choices reflect the era and the vibe, from Luisa’s sophisticated couture, to Carla’s barely there underwear, to Liliane’s Chanel-inspired layers of pearls. I wish she stuck with the black and white color scheme throughout, although the pops of colors in the mid-century costumes of the ensemble pieces were fun.
The solo and duet numbers are the better vocal performances: the all-female ensemble – alternately portraying spa staff, nuns, and town gossips – are so soprano-heavy it’s also shrill at times. Charmagne Chi has some featured moments, rocking a turbin. Mary Gjurich is another standout as Guido’s mother. She’s the calm and pragmatic Italian mama with a killer voice.
A standout of the night was Guido’s duet with actor and former lover Claudia. Moran and Arianne Davidow’s voices meld beautifully in “Unusual Way.” Davidow pours her heart into the Yeston’s lyrics “you made me whole.” It’s liquid platinum.
Max Goldhirsch is the only other guy in the cast and is adorable as 9 year old Guido. One of his key scenes is his introduction to, ahem, the physicality of love, with prostitute Saraghina. Nicole Cimato gave this plum role her best shot, but I missed the inherent irony of a mature, robust actor with a richer and stronger voice lustily singing “Be Italian.” Yes, another irony would have been Perez sliding out of the director’s chair for this one. She would have nailed it.
There were a few opening night hiccups with music director’s Allan Paglia’s quintet (I loved the cello against the voices, so lovely) that I’m sure are already fixed. Chris Cavanagh’s tiered set works well to add dimension to this small stage, and the tiers are needed to give the audience some better sightlines. Shea’s Smith is an interesting venue but there aren’t many good seats in this house.
This company and this cast rise above built environment obstacles and ‘Nine’ is another triumph for this company.
Running Time: 2 Hours with a 10-minute intermission.
‘Nine’ is onstage until June 30, 2019, is produced by Second Generation Theatre Company and is presented at Shea’s Smith Theatre. Find tickets are http://www.sheas.org.