By Dave Howell Special to The Morning Call
If you like musicals, but are tired of seeing the
same ones over and over, the Pennsylvania Playhouse production of
''Nine'' might be for you.
''Nine,'' an adaptation of Italian director Federico Fellini's 1963 film
''81/2,'' won the 1982 Tony for Best Musical and the 2003 Tony for Best
Revival. It's an autobiographical look at Fellini's struggles with both
his filmmaking and his personal life. The musical takes away most of the
film's surreal elements to focus on the director's relationships.
All the action takes place on one set, a Venetian spa. Charming but
emotionally stunted director Guido Contini (Gene Connelly) takes his
wife Luisa (Kristen Johnson) there, both to escape and to try to come up
with a last minute subject for his latest film. However, his other
romantic interests turn up.
As he struggles to choose a topic, he flashes back to his misery and
confusion growing up in a Catholic boarding school and losing his
virginity. RJ Hayward is a natural as the 9-year-old Guido.
When Guido decides to do a film about Casanova, it becomes the thinly
disguised story of his own life. He angers his wife and suffers a
Playhouse regular Gene Connelly wonderfully captures Guido as a lovable
rogue, unable to control his childlike nature. Connelly also nails the
dramatic scenes. It takes a fine actor to hold his head in his hands and
fall to the ground without looking overly melodramatic.
Connelly is especially good during Guido's dramatic interaction with
Claudia (Kirsten Mikkelsen), one of his love interests.
Not all the women are perfectly cast, but all are fine singers, here
backed by four musicians. Standouts are Elizabeh Buss as Guido's
producer, Liliane La Fleur, imitating a saucy French chanteuse in ''Folies
Bergeres''; Delitha Cyphers, playing Sarraghina, to whom Guido lost his
virginity, in a sexy rendition of ''Be Italian''; and warm and soaring
vocals by Cindy Ernst, as Guido's deceased mother.
Director Clair Freeman moves the action quickly through the absorbing
two-a-half hour show. This is not a perfect musical, but at the very
least, it deserves a nine out of 10.
''Nine,'' 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Oct. 15,
Pennsylvania Playhouse, Illick's Mill Road, Bethlehem. Tickets: $18;
$15, seniors and children Friday and Sunday only. 610-865-6665,
Dave Howell is a freelance writer.
Arts and Entertainment Editor