School of Music performs Nine

Nine, the latest musical produced by Carnegie Mellon’s School of Music, is an entirely different animal from the surreal Italian film that inspired it, Federico Fellini’s, 8 1⁄2. Along with the extra one-half, playwright Arthur Kopit gave Nine a more literal backbone, stripping out most of the surrealism of 8 1⁄2, while adding musical comedy and tweaking the plot and characters. The result is not quite as great a musical as 8 1⁄2 is a film, but it is a solid, interesting play with a colorful cast of characters and a bit more philosophy than the average Broadway show. The School of Music carried off the production impeccably, with strong acting and singing performances from everyone, gorgeous costumes, and an appropriately stark, minimal set.

Like 8 1⁄2, Nine follows a film director who has lost all inspiration. Guido Contini (played by junior BHA student Nathaniel Krause) has promised his producer a movie musical, and he’s supposed to start shooting at the end of the week, but he hasn’t even started writing the script. His married life isn’t going well either; Guido’s wife Luisa (senior music major Bevin Hill) is rapidly losing patience with his unfaithfulness and unresponsiveness, and Guido can’t seem to escape his two past mistresses, Carla (senior music major Caitlyn Glennon) and Claudia (senior music major Abigail Paschke). In a last-ditch attempt to save his marriage and hide from his producer Liliane La Fleur (senior music major Chrystal Williams) — and maybe even come up with an idea for his new film — Guido escapes to a spa in Venice, only to find that all of his problems have followed.

8 1⁄2 was named for the number of films Fellini had completed at the time (the half film was a short), but Nine was named for the idea that the play’s protagonist has not matured emotionally since he was 9 years old. In fact, the scenes in Nine where Guido relives his past with his 9-year-old self were the strongest of the play — child actor Danny Lawrence, who played the younger Guido, was darling, and senior music major Michelle Dillon, playing Guido’s childhood friend, charmed the audience with her instructional song about love, “*Ti Voglio Bene*” (“Be Italian”). Kopit would have done well to further explore Guido’s past and his arrested emotional development.

The first act of Nine delves a bit too far into self-indulgent musical comedy, with unnecessary songs like “The Germans at the Spa” and “*Folies Bergere*” (which refers to a music hall in Paris) that seem to exist only for laughs. The play redeems itself in the second act, however, taking on a darker tone as Guido’s life spirals out of control.

Throughout, Krause delivered an excellent performance as the hapless Guido, and Hill was even more spectacular as his long-suffering wife. Glennon was hilarious (and hot) in the lewd “A Call from the Vatican,” and Paschke was coolly beautiful as Guido’s other mistress, Claudia.

Even more beautiful than the actresses were the costumes — designer Elizabeth Flores’s creations would have been at home on a runway in Milan, let alone a Broadway stage. The outfit of Guido’s producer’s goon, Lina Darling (junior music major Gabriela Gamache) in particular looked like it came straight from a runway. Furthermore, the choice to make all the costumes black and white contributed to the show’s surreal mood (a mood the plot didn’t quite sustain), and made another homage to 8 1⁄2, which was filmed in black and white in the color film era.

Overall, the School of Music delivered a fabulous production of a flawed yet engaging play. If you missed it, you’re in luck — Squirrel Hill native Rob Marshall (who directed Chicago and Memoirs of a Geisha) is planning a film version of Nine, starring Javier Bardem, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Penélope Cruz, to be released sometime next year.