Peel back the dull score and only sporadically clever lyrics of “Nine” and what’s left is the show’s flamboyant imagery.
That’s not much to build a powerhouse musical around, and even the most costly and lavishly imaginative staging risks leaving an audience feeling impoverished. Put “Nine” in a campus theater like the one at Cypress, and the limited resources just make the show’s failings all the more glaring.
Director Diana Polsky and her plucky student cast can bear only so much responsibility for the less-than-engaging production that opened at the college last weekend. The look is often rudimentary, and the singing is spotty, but they don’t have much to work with, either.
“Nine” must have seemed like a stellar idea prior to its New York City premiere in 1982. It’s not hard speculating on what went through the heads of creators Arthur Kopit (book) and Maury Yeston (music and lyrics): Hey, musicals are supposed to be visually exciting experiences, aren’t they? Well, let’s adapt one of the most visually exciting movies ever.
They turned to Federico Fellini and his autobiographical masterpiece, “8 1/2.” “Nine” follows the film’s plot closely, even though it only gives superficial attention to the life of the disenchanted, womanizing director, Guido, whom Fellini examined so thoroughly.
The musical ostensibly is set in an Italian spa, where the libidinous and indulgent Guido (the stand-in for Fellini) has been exiled to sort out his swirling mid-life crisis and disappearing movie career. The real locale, though, is Guido’s mind, where all the women from his pressurized life come to charm and scold.
As the arena for all this, set designer Nanci Sroga has built an expansive and reasonably luxurious re-creation of a spa courtyard. It’s a comfortable place for the large cast to move through, but it lacks the needed panache to help jump-start our visual connection to the show. Robert Mumm’s lighting is equally competent but also could take more risks.
As for Guido, Darren C. Buckels offers a rather tame version; it’s a pleasant performance, but one that only hints at the complexities within. We’d like him to open up, to show more of a blaze even when brooding, but Buckels plays it cool. He does have the production’s strongest voice, though.
Actually, there could be more fire, or at least a smoldering sense of decadence, throughout the cast. Laura Gregory is just too understanding and mild as Guido’s long-suffering wife.
Both Cindy Acevedo as Guido’s lingerie-clad mistress and Natalie May Carter as his hot-blooded producer bring a few juicy moments to the production. So does Brenda Ivelisse Pacheco as Sarraghina, the local hooker who shows young Guido the facts of life.