NINE at City Lights in San Jose is stunning.

Tim Reynolds as Guido and Nicholas Sancen as young Guido with cast of NINE at City Lights Theatre in San Jose. (Photo by Sharron Stowe)

NINE: Musical Drama. Book by Arthur Kopit, music & Lyrics by Maury Yeston, adaptation from the Itlaian by Mario Fratti and directed by Jeffrey Bracco. City Lights Theater Company (CLTC), 529 South Second St., San Jose, CA 95112. (408) 295-4200 or

July 21 – August 28, 2011

NINE at City Lights is stunning.

Never having seen Nine the stage production or movie, or reviewed a show for City Lights Theater Company (CLTC), the opening night at their 101 seat theater was an eye opening pleasure. The 20 member cast nailed this adaptation of Federico Fellini’s semi-autobiographical film 8 ½ filling the stage with a bevy of beauties that exude sensuality with their singing, dancing and acting as they turn inside out the romantic fantasies of Fellini’s alter-ego given the name of Guido Contini (Tim Reynolds). The musical debuted on Broadway in 1982 winning five Tony Awards and was made into an Oscar nominated movie starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Nicole Kidman and Penelope Cruz.

With such great stars associated with the lead roles, any review of the musical beckons comparisons, but this review is as virginal as Guido’s conquests are non-virginal. Fellini’s avant-garde, experimental film 8 ½ refers to his eight and a half films as a director. The ‘nine’ in this title refers to the age our protagonist Guido encountered Sarraghina (Kereli Sengstack) the prostitute that influenced his later years as he searches for the answers to “What is love?” Her advice to him is “Be Italian” backed up by the Ladies of the Chorus.

Movie director Guido has just turned 40 years of age and has hit writer’s block after a string of box office and critical failures. The play is non-linear as Guido moves back and forth from the present to his past life fantasies that have shaped his egotistical over-sexed personality. These fantasies become an obsession affecting his ability to create art. As he strives to rekindle his career, supportive wife Luisa (Aoife Stone) becomes less tolerant of his peccadilloes and his producer Liliane La Fleur (Molly Thornton) becomes more demanding insisting that the new movie be a musical. Adding to his anxiety are his most recent mistress Carla (Elizabeth Santana) expecting marriage and his former star and muse actress Claudia Nardi (Kristin Brownstone) refusing to be in his next movie.

Even more shattering to his psyche is the fantasy where he encounters his mother (Ruth E. Stein) giving a bath to the young boy (Nicholas Sancen) who is Guido at age nine eventually being devastated by the demoralizing reaction of the Nuns and Church to his meeting with Sarraghina. It is a perfect ending for act 1 as “The Bells of St. Sebastian” ring/sing an accusatory refrain.

Tim Reynolds a fine actor and singer, who is usual cast in comedic roles, takes a while to capture the audience with a less than stellar first act but by the final black-out (there is no curtain) has fully absorbed the personality of Guido. Statuesque Aoife Stone gives a regal interpretation as the loyal but suffering wife keeping the paparazzi at bay with “My Husband Makes Movies.” Elizabeth Santana as Carla is magnificently raunchy with her rendition of “A Call from the Vatican” and heartbreaking with the quiet song “Simple.” Molly Thornton and Patty Reihnhart lead the Ladies of the chorus in the show stopping “Folies Bergeres.” Ruth Stein underplays the role of Guido’s mother to perfection and young Nicolas Sancen has a lovely voice and advance stage presence belying his age of 14. The Ladies of the Chorus are gorgeous, excellent dancers and give a tremendous boost to the entire production. Especially in the semi-production numbers of Guido’s futile attempts at creating a script “Western/The Bible/Documentary” and “The Grand Canal” sequence depicting the filming of a musical. Costume designs by Amy Conners and Jill Schwinn add greatly to the look necessary to shift from reality to fantasy.

Director Jeffery Bracco has caught the spirit of a Fellini movie with nary a dead spot in the entire show. There is minimal furniture (a sofa and hassock) with a two story rear stage elevation, with eight arched openings and black spiral staircases framing the stage. The music is created by two Synthesizers and two violins under the direction of Jean Narunsky. Running time 2 hours with an intermission. Highly recommended.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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