Oct 11, 2012

[Theater] Nine (Atlantis Productions)

Theater is my primary vice. I don't smoke. I drink only on occasion. I'm not into sports nor is travel all that big a thing for e. But when it comes to theater - especially musical theater, I'm more than willing to shell out money for the experience.

And Atlantis Productions has become my primary "dealer" when it comes to musical theater here in Manila. While they are not the only production company operating in the Metro, they are one of the most established ones who have reached that point of confidence and ambition to stage some really big Broadway shows. And I have to acknowledge how well they've managed things for themselves over the years.

Now at first I was hesitant about Nine since the movie version had disappointed me so much. It ended up being a confused mess with the odd musical number that just didn't carry well for me as a narrative exercise.

But this stage version was pleasantly surprising and certainly worth the experience. And I'm totally glad that I got a chance to see it before the run ended.

Synopsis: Nine is a musical with a book by Arthur Kopit with music and lyrics by Maury Yeston. The premise of the play is based on the semi-autobiographical movie  by famed director Guido Contini. This Atlantis Productions staging was directed by Bobby Garcia. The show recently concluded last October 7, 2012.

As film director Guido Contini (Jett Pangan) approaches his 40th birthday, he's reached a bit of a crisis point. His last three movies have flopped and he already has a contract with Liliane La Fleur (Cherie Gil) to work on another one - but he has no story in mind yet. Meanwhile his wife Luisa (Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo) is complaining about feeling neglected and threatens to leave Guido. Thus Guido proposes they go to a spa in Venice to relax and reconnect. But naturally the press hound his every step and soon more and more people learn of his whereabouts.

This whole time Guido is plagued by visions of the many women of his life. They are the women he loves such as his mistress Carla (Carla Guevara-Laforteza) and his leading lady Claudia (Eula Valdes) and the many different women of his past including his mother (Jay Valencia-Glorioso) and the prostitute Sarraghina (Ima Castro). Thus we have Guido struggling to come up with a script for his movie within a few days as he juggles the women of his life and in his head.

Now my biggest complaint about the movie was just how confusing the story was and how I had a hard time keeping up with things. In this stage version, I felt they made very effective use of the stage to clearly depict the shifts between Guido's imagination and when people are actually in the scene with him - well in a physical sense. And in that regard a lot of credit has to go to the very impressive set designed by David Gallo. It made for some very creative entrances and exists without seeming too static despite the lack of changes in the overall stage. We're so used to musicals juggling various set pieces around to depict new areas and to have this one massive piece (which I think is the tallest set Atlantis that has ever utilized) that has a character of its own.

On the flip side, I think they lighting director wasn't quite sure how to optimally manage the set since there were quite a number of sequences that had some actors in shadow and others not and I'm pretty sure this wasn't always intentional. The positioning of the stage was rather unique and I can understand the difficulty of trying to get the right angles for the various sequences they had.

The cast was not just star-studded, but also very powerful as an ensemble. And considering a predominantly female cast, it's clear that there was a lot of opportunity for each woman to shine in her own way.

It goes without saying that Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo was the perfect choice for Luisa. Given her stellar performance in the Atlantis run of Next to Normal, it was no surprise that she carried this role with the same degree of intensity and emotion. And in contrast we had Carla Guevara-Laforteza definitely being a crowd favorite with how she brought the sassy mistress to life, I have no doubt that A Call From the Vatican is the favorite song of many of the folks who got to watch the play.

Cherie Gil clearly enjoyed her time as Liliane La Fleur and I think she is one of the actresses who clearly had the most fun. Her write-up in the playbill mentioned how she had long begged Bobby Garcia to cast her in one of his shows and her enthusiasm clearly came across in this production. And Jay Valencia-Glorioso again demonstrated a great balance between class and humor, although I'm beginning to be a bit worried about her being typecast in all these elderly mother roles. She's had to do the same thing in In the Heights and A Little Night Music, so I'm definitely sensing a pattern here.

Oh and I was rather disappointed with Eula Valdes. She was rather, well, underwheming in her performance. I think she got too distracted with her efforts to carry an Italian accent both for her speaking lines and her singing bits. Sad.

At the center of the play we have Jett Pangan, the leading man among all these lovely ladies. We know he has the singing talents for these roles as well given his continued involvement with Atlantis. I was a bit worried he wouldn't be able to handle being the only guy in this show, but he managed to keep himself a strong enough player to balance against all those amazing women being up there with him.

Special mention needs to go to young Warren Saga and how well he handled the role of young Guido. Beyond the running around, what is really striking is just how beautiful his voice is. He has only a few musical numbers but he totally brings down the house every time he opens his mouth. Stellar.

Nine was definitely one of the most impressive shows that I've seen this year and certainly brings a new perspective to this story that the movie never managed. This time around I totally understood the story and the complex workings of Guido Contini's mind and thus the entire show itself. So I'm happy to give this musical 4.5
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  1. I heard that Nine was a really nice place and also had a great ensemble of casts and looks like you enjoyed this.

  2. Super fun! Wish you had a chance to see it too!