Nine Is Almost Enough

The Chance Theaters Nine

But Nine, Arthur Kopit and Maury Yeston's early 1980s stage adaptation of Fellini's 8 1/2, works—for the most part. It's never able to escape entirely the goofiness that permeates any creative enterprise in which people burst spontaneously into song. But that's the genre. And Nine is bold enough to compensate for the inherent strangeness of the medium. The chutzpah required to adapt Fellini for the musical stage may account in some measure for the fact that Ninedominated the 1982 Tony Awards and is being revived on Broadway next year.

In this Chance Theater production, director Martie Ramm's interpretation even works as art. It doesn't capture the Pirandello-like brilliance of Fellini's film, an abstract dreamscape that explores the nexus between life, art, reality and illusion. But this production does capture the intense human drama of the film, primarily through the very strong characterizations of the women around the show's male protagonist.

In Nine, that man is Guido (Richard C. Hawkes). As in Fellini's 8 1/2, Guido is a brilliant auteur and profligate womanizer. Every film he makes is an event—but his past three have been dramatic flops. He's waging battles on three fronts. One is a war against himself—he's insecure about his next project and can't settle on an idea. His high-strung, controlling producer (Liliane LaFleur) is stalking him, demanding a new script immediately. And his love life, the envy of most red-blooded straight males, is impossibly complicated, filled with the accusations, demonstrations and seductions of his many love interests, which include—but are not limited to—his wife, Luisa (Erika Amato); his sex-kitten mistress, Carla (Nikka Lanzarone); and his creative muse, the actress Claudia (Erika Ceporius).

Nine other women serve a variety of roles, from critics out to destroy Guido's reputation to German tourists Guido recruits for his spur-of-the-moment film. The play, like the movie, blends the present and the past, with the ghosts of his mother (April Wilson), the woman who first deflowered him (Kristel Koehler) and the nine-year-old Guido (Travis Rose) all popping up periodically to comment and explain some of the older Guido's fears and facets.

The female leads in this production are pitch-perfect. Amato, Lanzarone and Ceporius capture the particular drives of their characters. Amato yearns for respect and honesty; Lanzarone for more of Guido's passion; Ceporius is attracted to his creative soul. But the very things that attract them to Guido frustrate them. Through their actions, we're able to sense how a self-obsessed prick like Guido can also be so compelling and fascinating.

It's a good thing the women surrounding this Guido are complicated and believable because Hawkes' Guido isn't. He seems overmatched by the role. This character is supposed to be complicated and powerful. He oozes charisma, neurosis, primal sexuality, artistic charisma, insecurity and a sense of spiritual longing stymied by his inherent human limitations. Hawkes never quite gets there. He's vocally limited, particularly in his upper register; he has some obvious line issues; his characterization is bland and bloodless; and his laid-back demeanor seems better suited to a Mexican beach and a margarita than the center of a creative and emotional maelstrom.

It's possible that Hawkes' characterization will grow into a more complex performance as the show progresses. But even without that, this show features some great female performances. It may not be Fellini, but it's decent musical theater. And that's a win by any measure.

Nine at the Chance Theater, 5576 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim Hills, (714) 777-3033; www.chancetheater.com. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. Through July 28. $15-$18.

 
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