Playing in the Donmar Warehouse means there are no lush extravagant sets like you get with most big productions, but then this musical doesn't need them. It is a refreshingly different style of musical from what you normally get in the West End. The music has a very European sound to it which I like , as well as some witty lyrics.
It has an all female cast except for Larry Lamb who played the director Giudo Contini and a young boy who played the young Giudo. Two of the women stood out from the rest, Sara Kestelman who plays Liliane La Fleur, who puts in a outstanding performance and Jenny Galloway who plays Sarraghina, a big woman who seduced Guido as a boy.
The sets are basic, but in the second act they manage to turn the floor area in to a kind of pool . I must admit I never noticed the water appear at first, it was cleverly done and very effective.
I thoroughly enjoyed this new production at the small (200+ seat) Donmar Warehhouse. Seeing it two days after its official opening meant that I was NOT influenced by the critics--since I had not seen their scribblings. They did not share my opinion and the show went almost immediately onto the half-price booth listings. The production was far more intimate than its Broadway version, but it was always entertaining and in full keeping with the spirit of the original. The main criticism most reviewers found was with Larry Lamb, primarily a TV personality, in the role of Guido. His supposed lackings, to me, made the women's roles far more dominant and gave the entire show a different focus. Three of the women were absolutely marvelous: Jenny Galloway made Sarraghina the most sexy woman-of-the-beach imaginable; Sara Kestleman was wonderful as the Producer; Susannah Fellows and Dilys Laye were very strong as the wife and mother. The young Guido I saw was also outstanding--but since three share this role I do not know which one I saw. Nine plays until March 8 and if you are anywhere near London I would highly recommend it.
I have wanted to see the Arthur Kopit/Maury Yeston musical for some time, having missed the memorable concert performance that is available on CD. Yet again, the Donmar Warehouse has not disappointed me in their production of a musical.
I realise that Nine will not be to everyone's taste. There is no major plot and the time shifts all over the place, but to my mind this is as a sophisticated a piece of musical theatre you are likely to see in London this year.
Set under a huge tilting mirror that at times becomes translucent, the show has only a large table and metal chairs as set. It is superbly lit by Paul Pyant and there is a coup de teatre when the stage fills with water in the second act for the performance of the mock opera version of Casanova.
Larry Lamb plays Guido Contini, an Italian film director running out of ideas and time. Around him are the numerous women that play (or have played) a part in his life. Most notable is Jenny Galloway as Sarraghina, a rather ample woman who taught the young Guido to "Be Italian". What a performance!! This alone is worth the ticket price. She stands out from the other women in both dress and looks...looking like a typical Italian mama.... the seduction scene on a beach is a treat...she has a period of some minutes during the song with no music or singing...teasing the young Guido with the contents of a wine glass...a stunning piece of acting.
Sara Kestleman plays Liliane La Fleur, his producer, desperate for a hit film. She has the show stopping number "Folies Bergeres"...during which she picks out unfortunates in the audience...made even more palm sweating for me as I was on the front row....but happily her eye fell on my friend sitting next to me!
Susannah Fellows is Luisa, his long suffering wife and Clare Burt (a particular favourite of mine since I saw her a few years ago in a memorable production of Starting Here, Starting Now) is Carla..his long suffering mistress. They have good numbers individually but none more moving than "Simple" which Clare Burt sings as both his wife and latest star leave him.
The show ends with a Guido beginning to come to terms with himself as the young Guido sings "Getting Tall Young" after all have left him. There is a wonderful stage picture in the closing moments as all the cast appear through the mirror and a shaft of light streaks across the back wall where his wife is still there waiting for him.
This is a musical that you have to work at as an audience....use a bit of the old grey matter rather than just sit back and be entertained. It is often very haunting, often witty but never dull. It is wonderfully directed....nothing is missed (just watch Clare Burt's reaction to the tearing up of the divorce papers as they are flung onto the now water filled stage...she is not part of the main action here but the thought and direction that has gone into what she does shows the detail in David Leveaux's production. It is very well sung ( the opening song blows you out of your seat in it's power) and again, as with Company last year, has a superb small band.
My only caveat is that unless you get good central seats I do not think that mirror effect would work properly, certainly it wouldn't for the audience sitting in the side blocks. So rush along to see this sophisticated musical before it closes on 8th March, but do try and get seats in the centre if you can.
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