It has been almost 30 years since Nine the Musical had its only professional staging in Melbourne. For one night only, Manilla Street Productions has somehow managed to entice a host of musical theatre stars to create some of the magic of Maury Yeston's masterwork for a charity fundraiser.
Based on Federico Fellini's film 8 1/2, which was semi-autobiographical, Nine the Musical follows film director Guido Contini as he is about to turn 40. The opening sequence is a parade of all the influential women in his life – women he has loved and encountered in one way or another – and being Italian he is about to have more than just a mid-life crisis.
Arthur Kopit (Book) wrote a clever, often humorous script that looks at the anguish of an ageing Casanova, but what shines above all else is the sensational music and lyrics by Maury Yeston. With only one male character and eight female featured roles, the show is not just about a man struggling to gain control of his life, but about the power of women who made him who he is.
Portraying some of the women in this concert version were established performers that included Samantha Morley, Fem Belling, Angela Scundi and Alinta Chidzey.
Standing out in their individual moments: Chelsea Gibb's (Seraghina) Be Italian, Lucy Maunder's (Claudia) stunning rendition of Unusual Way and the Luisa of the original production, Maria Mercedes.
Revisiting the role after such a lengthy period, Mercedes brought a maturity and earthiness to her performance. From My Husband Makes Movies as she remembers how she gave up her own career to be with the man she has always loved, to her final ultimatum Be On Your Own – a powerful performance from one of our finest.
As Guido, the centre of his own storm, Michael Cormick, again displayed why he is one of our most impressive leading men. The voice, the charisma are all there. Surely we should be seeing so much more of him on our stages.
Added to this over 33 ensemble performers and dancers along with almost 30 musicians gave the production a fullness and energy that was a delight to enjoy.
An annoying aspect, however, was the sound levels, especially for the vocals, which left many performers' lines struggling to be heard properly. This was particularly noticeable in Act One. This is unfortunate as the venue designed with its acoustics at the forefront seems to have major issues with amplified sound.
Discounting this, Manilla Street Productions managed to deliver a most enjoyable production in a minuscule amount of rehearsal time. Director Stephen Wheat, Music Director David Wisken and Jason Bovaird's beautiful, dramatic lighting all merged to great effect.
If it takes a charity event to bring together so much talent for one night only, let's hope that there are many more in Concert performances to savour.
Manilla Street Productions presents
Nine the Musical in Concert
Director Stephen Wheat
Venue: Melbourne Recital Centre VIC
Date: 31 October 2016
Tickets: $59 – $119