"Nine" gets an 8 1/2.
Heck, let's give it a 10.
A lusty, lively production of the musical opened at Arizona Repertory Theatre on Wednesday.
There are faults, sure, but most of those are in the play's script.
It's these University of Arizona actors that elevated it. They committed completely to the play, based on Fellini's film "8 1/2."
And director Danny Gurwin showed a keen eye and a sharp wit in shaping the musical.
Now, Fellini is tough enough - his movies mixed surrealism with fantasy and decadence and a carnivalesque vibe. If you came out of a Fellini movie saying you knew what it all meant, we knew you were faking it.
But a camera can play with the themes to bring them home. That ain't so easy on the stage.
Gurwin's approach is to suggest what is real and what is fantasy with scrims and wispy curtains that lend a dreamlike feel to the play.
He brings the orchestra on the stage and it occasionally interacts with the actors.
And he lays on surrealistic touches in the form of painted mannequins and floating arms.
"Nine" tells the story of Guido, a filmmaker who is 40 and creatively spent. His once glorious career is faltering. Worse, he has no fresh ideas. He is falling apart. While Guido tries to deal with day-to-day life, he can't block the people and images and mistakes of his past from dancing in his head.
In the role of Guido, Max Tzannes was on stage constantly. Guido has women lined up to adore him. Seduction is the air he breathes.
Tzannes' powerful voice gave life to the music, which veered from opera to burlesque to ballots. But it was his immersion into the soul of a middle-aged man with the maturity of a preteen that made his character really sing. Tzannes, just a junior, was able to shrug off his youthfulness and give Guido an air of sophistication and frustration while clearly showing what a misogynistic cad he was. But oh, such a charming one.
And he was matched by a stage full of women who slinked and danced and shimmied while they sang some glorious songs with some glorious voices.
Women from Guido's past and present float in and out. Kylie Arnold in the role of his mother has a voice that soars; Caitlin Stegemoller was sexy and funny in her portrayal of Guido's lover, Carla; Kelsey Anne Johnson showed a sublime restraint as Claudia, an actress who has appeared in many of Guido's movies; and Erica Renee Smith gave nuance to her role of Luisia, Guido's long-suffering wife.
Sydnee Ortiz, a powerful singer, wrapped the role of the prostitute who taught Guido all about sex in a voluptuous cloak, and Carolyn Fluehr's turn as the movie producer La Fleur was a complete hoot.
"Nine" has some underwritten characters, others who are caricatures, a story that is about as thin as Guido's loyalty to his wife, and music that sometimes grabs you, other times is just ho-hum. And the ending is just a cop-out.
But the musical in the hands of Gurwin and this cast of UA students makes you not care one whit about it's shortcomings. What will stick with you after the curtain falls is what fun it is, and what talent there is at the UA.
• What: Arizona Repertory Theatre's production of the musical "Nine."
• By: Arthur Kopit and Maury Yeston.
• Director: Danny Gurwin.
• When: 1:30 p.m. today, Saturday and next Sunday; 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. Continues through April 28.
• Where: Marroney Theatre, in the University of Arizona Fine Arts Complex, North Park Avenue and East Speedway.
• Tickets: $31; discounts available.
• Reservations/information: tickets.arizona.edu or 621-1162.
• Running time: About 2 hours, with one intermission.
Contact reporter Kathleen Allen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4128.