Vagabond Players score big with a scaled-down 'Nine'

THEATER REVIEWS

November 14, 1991|By J. Wynn Rousuck

"Nine" was far from a standard musical when it opened on Broadway in 1982, and it is far from a standard selection for the Vagabond Players.

Not only is this Maury Yeston-Arthur Kopit musical based on the seemingly unlikely source of Federico Fellini's semi-autobiographical, impressionistic film, "8 1/2 ," but the original production featured a cast of 21 women and one man (and several children), most of whom spent most of the show moving around a set that represented a Venetian spa.

At the Vagabonds, director Todd Pearthree has trimmed the cast down to 13 women, one man and one child, and the fluid way he choreographs their movements on the constricted set is a mini-marvel. So is the choral work he elicits from these mostly undistinguished voices.

When you think about it, "Nine" should work in a smaller format since much of the Fellini movie supposedly takes place in the main character's head. Admittedly, however, the protagonist -- a frustrated filmmaker named Guido, played here by Mark Blackburn -- does havesome pretty grandiose ideas.

In an attempt to ward off creative block, Guido flings out wildly unrealistic concepts for his next film ranging from a Bible epic to a romantic spectacular. (His fantasy production number for the latter introduces the only color in this literally black-and-white show.)

Guido also fantasizes on a grand scale in his personal life, imagining he can juggle relationships with his wife (Kimberly A. Nolan), mistress (Alexsandra Auty) and leading lady (Eileen Keenan), and at the same time satisfy the demands of his film producer (Nancy Tarr Hart) and mother (Faye Byrd). To indicate Guido's presumed influence over these women, Mr. Pearthree -- modeling his direction on the Tommy Tune original -- has him act as a baton-wielding maestro, conducting the actresses as if they were his chorus.

Although Mr. Blackburn is not an archetypal Casanova, he does an acceptable job conveying Guido's self-absorption and artistic crisis. The two standouts in the cast are Ms. Keenan, who has not only the proper leading-lady hauteur but also a lovely singing voice, and Cynthia Rinaldi as the voluptuous prostitute who instructed 9-year-old Guido (A. Arcieri) in the ways of amore.

Costumer Gayanne Bashan has clothed the cast in a wide array of black attire -- from cocktail dresses to kimonos, leather to lace. And though most of the performances fall in a gray area, when Mr. Pearthree blends them together, the result is as colorful as a rainbow.

'Nine' continues at the Vagabonds weekends through Dec. 15; call (410) 563-9135.

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