Every summer, Lakewood Theatre stages a special extra production as its season opener and as a gift to its season ticket holders. This year’s show is the Portland area premiere of a Broadway heavy-hitter, Nine.
Based on Frederico Fellini’s surreal, semi-autobiographical film 8 1/2, Nine is the brainchild of composer/lyricist Maury Yeston, who saw 8 1/2 as a teenager and became obsessed with it. Eventually Yeston teamed up with Arthur Kopit, who wrote the book by the same name. It opened on Broadway in 1982, starring Raul Julia as the Fellini-esque character Guido Contini, and went on to win 5 Tonys, including Best Musical.
This play is incredibly rich on a number of levels, but the music takes center stage. It is complex and interesting, the lyrics often hilarious. The singers, for the second time in recent memory at a Lakewood performance, are incredible, filling the theatre with big, satisfying sounds one normally associates with opera! Guido is played by nationally recognized lyric baritone Matthew Hayward. Beth Noelle plays piano and leads the all-female orchestra. The cast features a stage full of strong female singers.
Indeed, the only man in sight is Guido–or rather three Guidos. Karsten George is Guido at nine; Matthew Sepeda is Guido as a young man. Having three Guidos running around on stage fits perfectly with the Fellini theme.
While the play is a spoof on Fellini, one does not need to know anything about the great Italian film director to enjoy the show. Set in the early 1960s, this is the story of a man who finds himself deep in a midlife crisis and surrounded by numerous and complicated relationships with women. He flees with his wife Luisa (Chrissy Kelly-Pettit) to a spa in Venice, but wherever you go, there you are. The mistress (Ecaterina Lynn), the French movie producer (Terra Lynn Hill), his muse, Claudia (Sarah Maines), and hordes of German girls and Italian girls all manage to find him, as do several of the ghosts of his past including his mother (Debbie Hunter), Lina Darling (Josie Seid), and a very lusty prostitute (Rachel Riehl).
There is much high energy, hilarity, and heaving of bosoms (a ton of them–leave the kids at home) as the past and present intermingle in the most unusual ways. At times we are riffing Gilbert & Sullivan, and moments later in the middle of a French bedroom farce. There is a lot going on here, and the mixing of fantasy and reality only adds to the delight.
Directed by Ron Daum and choreographed by Laura Hiszczynskij, Nine runs through August 14 at Lakewood Theatre in Lake Oswego.