Desires and Desperation: ‘Nine’

Partial image of St. Lawrence College's poster for their production of 'Nine'. Nine yellow blocks are pictured with a shadowy image of a person inside. A white block contains the title in large black letters.

Nine is a famous Broadway musical brought to life by the students of St. Lawrence College’s Music Theatre – Performance program. It played at the Thousand Islands Playhouse this past weekend and was directed by Alexandra Herzog. With music and lyrics by Maury Yeston and book by Arthur Kopit, the story based on the 1963 film   follows Italian Film Director Guido Contini (Felipe De Brito) as he tries to write a screenplay while distracted by multiple love interests. This compelling dynamic along with some wonderful songs makes for a very entertaining performance.

As Guido struggles to write an important screenplay—if it flops, that could mean the end of his career—his wife, Luisa (Jocelyn Nicholson), threatens to divorce him if he does not focus more on their marriage. So the two take a getaway to a spa near Venice. Here is where the majority of the play takes place and where his producer, Liliane La Fleur (Sophie Wilson), finds him and reminds Guido he only has a few days left to finish the script before production starts. The play continues through production as the audience meets women from Guido’s past and present such as his mistress, Carla (Kay Sinclaire), and his “true love”, Claudia Nardi (Lola Nogueras), creating a multitude of problems and revelations for our protagonist. The play explores themes of artistic creation, inner conflict, and the complexity of relationships and love.

De Brito is fantastic as the lead. He has a powerful voice and distinguishes a wide range of emotions with excellence, using emotive facial expressions and, at times, exaggerated movements like collapsing to the floor in moments of deep sadness. Nicholson and Sinclaire are exceptional as Luisa and Clara respectively. Each has an incredible voice and their characters are fantastic foils to the other, bringing out the good and bad of Guido’s personality. With this being said, I want to give a shout-out to the entire cast—upwards of 12 performers—for their excellent work singing.

With a fairly simplistic set designed by Joe Pagnan, numerous settings are depicted ranging from Guido’s residence to a beach to a spa near Venice. Choreography by Herzog is also sublime, especially in the large group numbers that take place when the movie is being filmed. With around 10-plus people on stage, it is chaotic but organized—a balance that is difficult to get right.

The multitude of different costumes designed by Patricia Reilly is also a highlight of the show. These range from Guido’s well-tailored suit to 1700s upper-class costumes made for Guido’s movie. The costumes are extravagant when they need to be and modest when subtlety is required. There is an abundant number of costumes, which leads to many costume changes. Sometimes I was baffled how they were able to change so quickly from number to number. 

The play is also incredibly well-paced. The musical is very fast with many subplots on top of Guido’s multiple relationships plus numerous bits of information given to the audience in a flashy and quick manner. If done poorly this can be overwhelming for viewers. But this show is coupled with important and well-placed slower sections, making for emotional scenes that provide the show with a balanced pace.

I don’t have many negatives to note apart from minor mistakes such as some off-time dialogue. But these missteps were few and far between. As I attended their opening night, I am sure these were easily polished. Also, I would not recommend this play for children as it does depict sexual content in a way not suitable for a younger audience. 

Nine is a fantastic musical put on by the students of St. Lawrence College. It is thoroughly entertaining with catchy songs and strong acting. It is surely a great time for all musical lovers.

St. Lawrence College’s production of ‘Nine’ played at Thousand Island Playhouse’s Firehall Theatre April 12-14, 2024. Find more information here