Review: Nine (Sydney University Musical Theatre Ensemble)

museVenue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Oct 21 – 24, 2015
Book: Arthur Kopit (based on the Italian by Mario Fratti, after Federico Fellini’s )
Music & Lyrics: Maury Yeston
Director: Jonathan Rush
Cast: Mikhaila Chaplin, Anna Colless, Hannah Cox, Genevieve de Souza, Rielly Dickson, Doug Emery, Jacinta Gregory, Bridget Haberecht, Bronwyn Hicks, Jane Hughes, Gabi Kelland, Lisa-Marie Long, Jos Markerink, Rose McClelland, Olga Solar, Nicole Toum, Stephanie Troost, Sam Wood

Theatre review
Based on Federico Fellini’s 1963 semi-autobiographical film , this is a musical about a man’s passion for life, work and women. The central character in Nine is Guido Contini, the superstar director under pressure to create a new work. He escapes, procrastinates and reminisces, but we do not see the film being made. His artistic process is not a straightforward one, and we learn that genius manifests itself in unexpected ways.

The songs in Nine are melodic and extravagant, powerfully orchestrated by ten musicians under the supervision of Alexander Norden, who breathes life into Maury Yeston’s 42-year-old compositions. The show is directed with flair and energy by Jonathan Rush, and choreographed intelligently by Natasha Heyward. It is a production that successfully expresses the exuberance of Fellini’s Italy, with all elements finding cohesion in the decadence and wildness of that romanticised world.

There are accomplished performances in the show, most notably Hannah Cox’s turn as Liliane La Fleur, completely stealing the show in her sensational Folies Bergère number, with perfectly pitched humour, rambunctious sex appeal, and a stunning sense of joy. There are major problems with sound in the production, but stronger singers, including Anna Colless and Bronwyn Hicks do manage to overcome them with sheer vocal power. Less fortunate are the show’s leads Doug Emery and Bridget Haberecht, the Continis who find themselves consistently drowned out by musical accompaniment. Nevertheless, their committed and eloquent performances leave a strong impression, and help to deliver a fascinating narrative that is ultimately very satisfying.

This might be a minimal staging, but its imperfections are few. Nine stands the test of time, and this small revival demonstrates the potentialities and pleasures it contains. Inspiration is invaluable, and artists especially must be able to identify them. Fellini’s magnificence is emulated in Yeston’s musical, and this production is clearly touched by the muses, but we do not have to wait for the calling of divinity to be spurred on to create something special; as we see in Guido’s story, greatness is to be found in la dolce vita.