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Colonial Players’ Nine is a Ten

A moviemaker without a script meets all the loves of his life in this seductive musical

(photo by Colburn Images) Crofton Woods fifth grader, Jackson Parlante, plays the perfect younger counterpart to Jason Vellon’s Guido Contini, a cinematic genius in the throes of artistic block and midlife crisis.

Nine, like Colonial Players’ last show, is destined to sell out.

Based on Federico Fellini’s semi-autobiographical masterpiece 8½, this 1982 Tony winner for Best Musical has spectacle, humor, pathos and a stellar cast. But the story is its most appealing asset.

Guido Contini (Jason Vellon) is a cinematic genius and Casanova in the throes of artistic block, emotional exhaustion and a midlife crisis. When he arrives at the Venetian spa where his new project is set to begin filming in days, he is still desperate for a concept. There, surrounded by the many loves of his life, both in the flesh and in memory, he reflects on his childhood and meteoric career.  

In a story about choices — maturity vs. immaturity, monogamy vs. polygamy — Vellon is the only actor in town suave and sensitive enough to pull off such a credible Contini. His command of Italian gestures is so good he almost doesn’t need to speak. Jackson Parlante, the Crofton Woods fifth grader who plays young Guido with chaste smile and crystalline voice, is his perfect counterpart.

Director’s program notes seldom invite re-reading, but Ron Giddings’ are the exception, focusing on the tenuousness of creative narcissism and the quality of the women in this show. The film titillated with the hyper-sexuality of Hollywood’s most alluring starlets. This production unapologetically uses real women described as scary, menacing and intensely aggressive in their desire. First and foremost is Luisa Contini (Alicia Sweeney), Guido’s forbearing yet fed-up wife. Carla Albanese (Jamie Erin Miller) is the adulterous bombshell who angles to separate them. Claudia Nardi (Erica Miller) is his regal and eternal muse. Sarraghina (Debbie Barber-Eaton), the gypsy whore who first aroused him at age nine, is juxtaposed against Mama Contini (Susan S. Porter), Guido’s distressed and doting mother. And there are the harpies: his exacting French impresario, Liliane La Fleur (Rebecca Kyler Downs) and Stephanie Necrophorus (Katie Gardner), a spiteful ex-lover.

Song and dance numbers are over-the-top, often teetering on the brink of burlesque. In Call from the Vatican, Jamie Erin Miller’s gymnastically swings from the bed canopy. Barber-Eaton sings with gusto the seductive tarantella Ti Voglio Bene/Be Italian. Gardner and Downs preside over the carnivalesque Folies Bergers, featuring two trapeze artists among the company. The Bells of St. Sebastian juxtaposes tambourines against a chorus of Kyries. The Grand Canal is a marathon of loves on parade in a gondola ride.

Erica Miller, by contrast, delivers a gently inspirational Unusual Way. Sweeney is particularly good at extremes of temperament indulgent in My Husband Makes Movies and fiery in Be On Your Own. Porter is lovable in the childhood reminiscence, Nine. Vellon charms in Guido’s Song and displays emotional and vocal depth in the desperate I Can’t Make This Movie.

This is a labor-intensive show behind the scenes, as well. Nine costume assistants were required to create the 90 ensembles, from double-knit frocks to feathered and sequined corsets to nuns’ habits. A brief slide show in black and white focuses on Guido’s many loves. Relying on family connections rather than a dialect coach, the actors deliver accents that are understandable even without translation. Erica Miller’s rapid-fire rant will transports you to Rome.

Audience participation is expected at points; gentlemen, don’t be shy if a certain sexy lady asks you a question.

If you’re broad minded, love to laugh and tap your toes and leave the theater humming, Nine is a 10.

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Nine by Arthur Kopit and Maury Yeston. Director and choreographer: Ron Giddings. Music director: Andrew Gordon. Stage manager: Shirley Panek. Sound: Richard Atha-Nicholls. Lights and set: Frank Florentine. Costumes: Beth Terranova. Slide show: Sam Agra. With Cara Marie Pellegrino as Our Lady of the Spa, plus Ryan Gunning, Kaitlin Fish, Debra Kidwell, Rhonda Wardlaw, Rowena B. Winkler, Kirsti Dixon and Hannah Hall. Runs two hours and 20 minutes.

Thru April 30: ThFSa 8pm, Su 2pm (except dark on Easter Sunday April 16), 108 East St., Annapolis, $20 w/discounts, rsvp: www.thecolonialplayers.org.