Review: ‘Nine’ at Colonial Players of Annapolis

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Colonial Players of Annapolis’ production of Nine is a musical extravaganza, with lots of marvelous singing and dancing, as well as beautiful costumes. With a book by Arthur Kopit, music and lyrics by Maury Yeston, directed by Ron Giddings, and music direction by Andrew Gordon, it blends the past with the present, and mixes fantasy with reality.

Jason Vellon and Jackson Parlante. Photo courtesy of Colonial Players.

Jason Vellon plays film director Guido Contini as a charming rogue. Even though he’s involved with several women at once, in addition to his wife, and under pressure to come up with an idea for his next film, he still endears himself to the audience. In “Guido’s Song” his incredible ambition leaps out. “I would like to be able to sing a duet with myself” he sings, and wants the universe to say “whatever you want is okay.” It’s hubris to the extreme, but Vellon makes it work. He shines in “Only with You” convincing every woman who joins him on stage that each one of them is responsible for his success. It’s a funny and charming performance.

Alicia Sweeney gives a quiet strength to Luisa, Guido’s wife. In the beginning, she comes across as a bit meek, quietly explaining to reporters in “My Husband Makes Movies” that his eccentricities come from spinning “fantasies and giving them to you”, the way some men read the paper before going to bed. Her true feelings arise in the middle of the number, however, calling Guido “The Weasel Contini.” She plays the role of dutiful wife perfectly, until her anger and sadness finally boils over in “Be On Your Own,” giving full vent to her frustration and showing Guido the consequences of his actions. She gives a powerfully emotional performance.

Jamie Erin Miller gives a powerful, physical earthiness to Carla, Guido’s girlfriend. She is extremely athletic, swinging upside down in the shower during “A Call from the Vatican,” leaping across the stage and straddling Guido. It’s remarkable to watch. She also lets her vulnerability come out, falling to her knees in tears after a heartbreaking encounter with Guido. In “Simple”, her response to Guido’s urging to keep their relationship uncomplicated is full of pain and heartbreak, her dreams for the two of them dashed. Miller gives Carla plenty of depth and emotion.

Erica Miller plays Claudia, an actress in Guido’s films with great strength and grace. She fights for life as a real person, not just one of Guido’s fantasies. She fills her duet with Vellon, “A Man Like You/Unusual Way,” with longing and sadness, acknowledging that their relationship is complex. She challenges him somewhat, asking him for a different role to play. During filming, Vellon does something to her so tender and intimate that reveals the depth of his feelings for her. It’s an incredibly powerful scene.

Debbie Barber-Eaton plays the gypsy Sarraghina with raw sensuality. She dances across the stage in “Ti Voglio Bene” and “Be Italian,” encouraging the young Guido (Jackson Parlante) to embrace his natural gifts and become a lover. She leads the company in an incredibly physical tambourine dance, slapping the instrument across their bodies. Although she only appears a short time on stage, it’s quite memorable, and it will play out over Guido’s life.

Susan S. Porter gives tenderness and love to Mama Contini. Her song  “Nine” is full of sweetness and light, a beautiful celebration of her son. Her concern over Guido’s behavior is touching. Later, when Guido needs help the most, she gives him strength, telling him to “shape up!”, while still managing to be affectionate. Her love comes through powerfully throughout the story.

Rebecca Kyler Downs plays Liliane La Fleur, Guido’s producer, with control and guardedness. She tries to corral Guido into giving her the film she wants. Describing her vision, she softens, dominating the stage in “Folies Bergeres,” She becomes a glamorous performer, engaging with several audience members and playing with a long black boa.

Katie Gardner is a hoot as critic Stephanie Necrophorous. She brings a severity to the role, disparaging Guido at every opportunity. She’s great fun to watch.

Jackson Parlante is utterly delightful as young Guido. His innocence and love shines in even the darkest moments, a reminder of the good person Guido truly is. In “Getting Tall” he explains what we should learn as we grow up, full of sweetness and love even as it serves as good advice. He has a wonderful career ahead of him.

Alicia Sweeney, Jason Vellon, Jackson Parlante, and Susan S. Porter. Photo courtesy of Colonial Players.

Beth Terranova’s costume design captures the spirit of early 60’s Italian fashion. Luisa wears a black dress with pearls and glasses. Carla has a short white poka-dotted dress with rose prints. Claudia appears in a backless green gown. Mama wears a matronly pink dress. Sarraghina has a black off the shoulder robe. For several scenes, the company wears ‘reversible’ nuns’ habits.

Frank Florentine’s lighting design allows the lights to reflect the mood and time. During the emotional scenes, the lights are low and soft, while they brighten for the fun, glamorous ones.

Ron Giddings has done a wonderful job directing this show. With such a large cast, and so many onstage at once in a small space, they all move easily and quickly, working well together. Everything flows naturally, and the movement is great fun to watch. Andrew Gordon’s musical direction is superb and he has fine musicians.

All the elements come together for a fun, clever musical with plenty of heart. Colonial Players delivers a Broadway quality production in an intimate setting. This Nine’s a perfect 10!

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with a 20-minute intermission.

Nine plays through through April 30, 2017, at Colonial Players of Annapolis – 108 East Street in Annapolis, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 268-7373, or purchase them online.

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