THE MUSICAL extravaganza Nine is probably the best-known item from the large pool of artistic homages paid to 8½, Federico Fellini’s 1963 avant-garde
tale of midlife crisis and writer’s block. This 1982 Broadway hit, revived to great acclaim in 2003, is not quite so surreal as 8½, and far less introspective. However, it is more overtly erotic (which is saying something), and its impressive spectacle potentially makes up for its intellectual shortcomings.
The current production by City Lights Theatre Company, directed by Jeffrey Bracco, fortunately has more than enough sizzle to wipe the lukewarm taste of the 2009 screen adaptation from the mouths of local theater patrons. This Nine is more spectacular than what you would normally expect to see at a smaller-sized venue, with a large cast of beautiful and talented women in tastefully sexy costumes surrounding lead actor Tim Reynolds.
Reynolds plays the famed Italian director Guido Contini, who has all but destroyed his marriage through narcissism and endless philandering. Seeking
respite, he travels with his wife, Luisa (Aoife Stone), to a Venetian spa, only to discover that his mistress Carla (Elizabeth Santana) is also in town.
Meanwhile, the movie Guido is supposed to begin making remains unwritten and unfocused—it might be a Western, or perhaps a Mondo Cane–style documentary (his producer, a former Folies Bergère dancer played by Molly Thornton, wants him to make a musical).
As with Fellini’s film, the narrative drifts back and forth between fantasy and reality, often making little distinction between the two while exploring Guido’s childhood memories, his uncertain movie and his relationships with the many women in his life. And there are many—apart from Reynolds, the only other male in this 20-member cast is 14-year-old Nicolas Sancen, who plays young Guido. Kereli Dawn Sengstack portrays the prostitute Sarraghina, with whom Guido had his first sexual experience and who sings the show’s signature tune, “Be Italian.” As Guido’s mother, Ruth E. Stein joins in “The Bells of St. Sebastian,”
in which Guido laments his repressive Catholic upbringing. Elizabeth Santana’s fervid rendition of “A Call from the Vatican” as a lingerie-clad Carla is one of the play’s finest moments. The only real quibbles I have with this show are the cast’s sometimes labored European accents; otherwise, it’s a highly enjoyable evening.
Nine will run through August 28 at City Lights Theater Company, 529 S. 2nd St., San Jose. Tickets $15-$28. More information at 408.295.4200 and www.cltc.org.