TAYLORSVILLE — Maury Yeston’s musical Nine, opened on Broadway in 1983. It won the Tony Award for best musical that year. However, it has never been reviewed by UTBA, likely because it is a show that gets a hard PG-13 rating, and much of Utah’s audience skews for milder shows. However, Hart Theater Company is committed to diverse content and has mounted a production of this show at the Mid-Valley Performing Arts Center in Taylorsville, directed by Amber Hansen. I jumped at the chance to see this show and check something off my theatre bucket list.
The show (with a script by Arthur Kopit) follows the story of Italian film maker Guido (played by Diego Rodriguez) as he hits career and personal crisis in his life at age 40. The play shows glimpses into his marriage, his affairs, and his past. Throughout the evening, the audience sees some of the trauma that has led him to where he is, some of his bad choices that bring his downfall, and some of the people who have influenced the good and bad in his life.
The first think I noticed as I walked into studio 5400 at the Mid Valley Center was the 7-piece live band conducted by Anne Puzey, who was also on keyboard. The richness that Puzey and her team added to the show cannot be understated. Had this same production been done at Hart with a backing track, with the emphasis being on almost an operatic level of musicality, I do not think it would have resonated in the same way. For the live musicians alone, the show is worth the ticket price.
Puzey also served as the show music director. The music of Yeston’s score was exquisite. Some of the numbers were true stand outs. In the second act, the song “Unusual Way,” sung by Claudia (played by Erin Royall Carlson) had such a haunting melody, and Carlson transitioned through that melody with such grace. The song “Be Italian,” featuring Saraghina (played by Becky Jeanne Knowles), was sultry and sexy with very impressive choreography by Ashley Gardner Carlson. This number was also one example of many where the entire ensemble was able to blend and mix their vocals fantastically.
Of course, Nine needs to have a strong Guido, and Rodriguez truly rose to the challenge. The song “The Bells of St. Sebastian” at the end of act one was a clear indication of why Rodriquez was cast. He was intense and calculated in his acting choices, which matched his soothing vocal abilities. The thing that really helped with this was his connection with the younger Guido, played so well by Shane Farber. In the finale of the evening, Rodriquez and Farber have a moment of connection that was simple and profound and left me with tears.
The true standout of the evening was newcomer to Utah Jin-Xhang Yu as Guido’s wife Luisa. Her first number of the evening, “My Husband Makes Movies” left me speechless. The song has resonating low notes that many women cannot hit (let alone hit well), and yet Yu hit them with such grace and elegance. In addition to the fantastic singing, Yu could command the stage with facial expression. There is a scene in act two where her character is supposed to be upset, and the ability of Yu to convey this without a single word was mesmerizing. I found myself drawing to watching her own reactions, rather than watching the rest of the stage. I wanted to fast forward to know what she was going to do next, and when it finally happened, I was not disappointed. When she sang the song “Be on Your Own,” I wanted to leap out of my seat to give her applause. It was truly a defining moment. I hope that Yu is cast in every show she auditions for, because she is a gem of a talent.
I highly recommend that readers attend Nine. While some Utah audiences may not appreciate the play’s racy elements, those who see Nine will have a sublime experience with an underappreciated musical.