"Nine," making its area premiere at the Vagabond Theatre through Dec. 15, is a different kind of musical.
Not quite in the revue genre (it has a story line and believable characters), the Tony-Award winning work depends on smart, sophisticated execution of the 23 numbers that serve as plot exposition.
With singing by the capable 13-woman chorus and central male character, the Vagabonds do an admirable job in carrying off this difficult piece. Professional choreographer and director Todd Pearthree has created some exceptional choreography so that everyone moves smoothly and suavely about the limited stage.
Named "Best Musical of the Year" in 1982, "Nine" is a satirical take-off on Federico Fellini's autobiographical 1963 film "8 1/2 ," in which a famed film director desperately searches for a new movie idea after the success of his previous 8 1/2 projects.
The title refers to the film director, Guido Contini, as a child of 9, when he was introduced to the wicked ways of the world by the high-spirited whore Sarraghina.
The boy Guido is on stage almost the whole time. The implications are that the adult Guido, facing a mid-life crisis, has never matured. But there is hope for him at the conclusion of the play, when he bids the child in him goodbye and takes up the mantle of responsible manhood.
This stream-of-consciousness piece is delightfully amusing at times and surprisingly moving other times. Adapted for the stage by Arthur Kopit, with music and lyrics by Maury Yeston, the play weaves Guido's reality in and out of the past and present in surrealistic fashion. His confusing love life (which includes his wife Luisa, his mistress Carla, and his former mistress Claudia) gets in the way of his waning talent.
In a white marble spa in Venice, Guido conjures up all the women he has ever known. Claiming to his long-suffering wife that he can capably conduct his own life, he takes out a baton and leads the 13 women in singing, "Our Lady of the Spa and Company."
Stubbornly wanting to hold on to the golden yesterdays, he persists in his shallow existence and breaks some true hearts along the way.
A scoundrel and a cad, self-serving and narcissistic, he is at the end left only with himself and truth.
Although lacking a bit in the vocalization department, Mark Blackburn convinces as the egocentric Guido. His final song with the young Guido (A. Arcieri), "Getting Tall," is quite touching.
Kimberly A. Nolan turns in a fine, sensitive portrayal of Luisa and shines in "My Husband Makes Movies" and "Be on Your Own." Alexsandra Auty is voluptuous and amusing as Carla, especially in the "A Call From the Vatican" musical sequence.
Faye Byrd is excellent as Guido's gentle and wise mother. Nancy Tarr Hart as Guido's hard-nosed film producer delights in the "Folies Bergeres." Cynthia Rinaldi as Sarraghina almost brings down the house with her outstanding rendition of the best company number, "Be Italian."
Eileen Keenan as Guido's former actress protege presents a superb, in-depth character study and beautifully renders her solos, "A Man Like You," "Unusual Way" and "Duet" (this one with Blackburn).
Musical director Sally Tarr offers fine accompaniment on the piano.
WORTH MENTIONING: Robert Jenkins does first-rate choreography and musical direction for the local version of "My Fair Lady" at the White Marsh Dinner Theatre through Dec. 31. Pamela Peach (as Eliza), Randy Jones, Richard W. Lloyd, David Shannon and Lynne Sigler deliver fine performances. Jerome D. Potter is Henry Higgins. After tonight, Higgins will be played by Edward J. Peters and Eliza by Beth Weber.
Charles ("Roc") Dutton gave splendid portrayals of Shakespearean characters Sunday night at Towson State University. The personable Dutton was at his best in scenes from "Richard III," "King Lear," "Macbeth" and "Othello." Fine student acting supported his roles.
Impressive is the word for Sam McCready's experimental presentation of a significant passage from James Joyce's novel "Finnegan's Wake" (read by Joan McCready) last week in UMBC's Albin O. Kuhn Library. This stream of consciousness work explores the myriad impressions and fragmentary thoughts of the waking mind, offering vivid images of man's moral history through life and time.