There is a quote from the Kingston Whig Standard that appears prominently on the cover of the program for Blue Canoe‘s production of “Nine”: “imaginative, energetic and engaging”. Although I have no idea which former show this statement pertains to, it is most certainly suitable for this one, as well.
“Nine”, book by Arthur Kopit and music/lyrics by Maury Yestin, is the story of 1960’s Italian filmmaker Guido Contini, who is facing the simultaneous breakdown of both his professional and personal lives. The tale unravels at a very quick pace, so you best pay attention if you hope to keep up, as there is little exposition or breathing room to provide any opportunity to catch up. The narrative is neither linear nor straightforward, so those audience members who fall behind, are likely to be left behind. Those, on the other hand, who follow along keenly will reap the benefits of some very rich and clever writing.
Co-directors Sean McCabe and Bridget Gilhooly have assembled a talented and extremely hard-working cast. Apparently, “Nine” was originally staged with 30+ actors, but this perfectly intimate production features only eleven. Each cast member has a key primary role, but otherwise fulfills a part in the ensemble, so there is little to no downtime for anyone. I’ve seen the strategy used in the past, but it often results in a two-tiered effort as the performers move from plum roles to marking time as extras. Not so here! No one demonstrates this all-out commitment and tireless discipline more than Katie Oake, Our Lady Of The Spa, who is charged with navigating us through this labyrinthine plot. Sophie Waldman and Tara Wink, as Guido’s Mom and Sarraghina respectively, are also standouts. Katie Johnstone is alluring in the role of Guido’s lover, but some of her lines were lost under the band (including some very important ones at the end of the first act). The most entertaining and well-rounded performance of the evening was provided by Kaila Muzzin who is a hoot in the role of La Fleur, Guido’s producer – and a character with her own penchant for the spotlight. Muzzin had the audience in the palm of her as she shared her vision of The Script.
Luisa, Guido’s wife, is portrayed by Madeleine Schaefer Scovil, who is suitably lovely and sympathetic throughout. She really makes her presence felt, though, when it counts most towards the end of the play, as she slowly builds to and finally reaches her breaking point. Alex Oliver, playing the role of Guido, does not offer the strongest or most consistent vocals that you will typically find in a musical lead. He is well enough suited to the patter-style delivery used most often in this production, but he falters on more traditional numbers such as Only With You. This is completely forgivable, however, because his passionate characterization of the conflicted filmmaker is a remarkable delight. Also delightful is Devon Murray-Powell, whom the audience cannot help but adore, prancing about the stage as Young Guido. You will find that he has much more to offer, though, in the kind of catharsis that one can only find in being schooled by one’s childhood self. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t believe that either Oliver or Murray-Powell can fully appreciate how truly powerful their shared crowning moment is (especially to some guy sitting in the audience who is staring down the barrel of his own fortieth birthday).
The directors and their creative team have crafted a production comprised of stunning visuals and sexy imagery. The intimate staging serves the material well, and the simplicity of Stephanie Andrews’ set provides an ideal backdrop for this showcase of talent to blend with the audience’s imagination. The show offered a number of memorable snapshots, and I left the theatre with a vivid storyboard imprinted on my mind. These flashes of brilliance, however, were muted in their translation to a living, moving piece. Projections, used effectively at the top of the show to introduce us to the cast of characters, were later an unnecessary distraction in their coming and going over the course of the play. The choreography of Devon Hauth appeared inspired, however the timing and execution did not quite meet the requirements of the vision. The action of “Nine” was hampered most, though, by the constant upstage movement of the cast making their crossovers and the musicians playing their instruments (albeit very well) behind the scenery flats, with no attempt at masking. The placement of the conductor, directly in front of an opening, is particularly unfortunate in that the eye cannot help but be drawn to motion, regardless of how touching a moment on the stage may be.
Despite its few drawbacks in execution, this honestly is “an imaginative, energetic, and engaging” show. I was both impressed and entertained by this young company’s passion and commitment to a challenging piece. This is a production that beautifully captures the intimacy that only a live production has to offer. (4/5 Stars)
“Nine”, book by Arthur Kopit and music/lyrics by Maury Yeston, is a Blue Canoe Productions production, directed by Sean McCabe and Bridget Gilhooly, musical direction by Caitlin Barton, runs at the Baby Grand Studio in Kingston from Jan 8th to 25th with a 7:30 pm curtain…Full cast and crew can be seen here…Tickets available at the Grand Theatre Box Office online or by calling 613-530-2050…