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“Nine” movie adaptation is jaw-droppingly awful (Review) December 27, 2009

Posted by ronannarbor in Entertainment, Movies, musical theater.
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First, for the record, NINE is one of my favorite 3 Broadway musicals. I saw the original 1982 production 3 times in NYC, and the revival as well (which was already watered-down…pun intended).  But what Rob Marshall has done with the movie version of NINE is jaw-droppingly awful.

First, Daniel Day-Lewis is woefully miscast. He looks vaguely Italian, and acts vaguely stereotypically Italian — but he can’t sing well, and he’s not Italian. He’s also 10 years too old for the part, and this is reflected in lyric changes.

Second, nobody in this cast is Italian with the exception of Sophia Lauren, who mutters through her role as Guido’s mother, and looks strangely CGI-like. I can list twenty Italian and Italian-American actresses right now that could have been cast instead. It’s nice to see her in the movie, but Sophia herself looks like she would rather be anywhere but.

Third, despite the star power here, only Penelope Cruz and (surprisingly) Kate Hudson turn in anything worthy of musical theatre performance. Sadly, Kate Hudson does so in a role created for the movie that does not exist in the stage production, and her number (in black and white) is awful. Her entire storyline, song, and character could (and should) be cut. Still, she has energy that is palpable, as is Cruz’s. Marion Cotillard turns in a nice acting performance as Luisa Contini, Guido’s suffering wife. Too bad most of her songs are cut.

And therein lies the biggest problem — characters and songs are cut, added, moved around, and rearranged to the point that NINE the movie no longer resembles NINE the musical. Judy Dench as a seamstress sings “Folies Bergeres” instead of Lillian LeFleur. In fact, Lillian LeFleur is cut! “Be on Your Own”, the most powerful song in the show, is cut. In fact, more than 60 percent of the musical score is cut, as is the drama. The new songs added do nothing. (By the way, they add new songs to movie adaptations so that there is something to nominate for “Best Song” for the Academy Awards — any song already performed in a Broadway musical is ineligible for consideration). Nothing here is worthy of nomination, and most likely nothing will be.

I enjoyed some of Fergie’s “Be Italian”, but the production number itself is like a bad advertisement for Victoria’s Secret — it even has haze lighting! Haze lighting!! But I liked the choreography, and it has some life.

Nicole Kidman, the most over-rated and talent-free actress of our time, here continues her long history of displaying both her over-ratedness as well as her inability to act, sing, or carry a scene. Plus she looks fat. Rob Marshall must not have liked working with her too much, since  her part is cut down to a sliver, and he gives her the least flattering camera angles of all the ladies in the show. Half of her spoken lines are not discernible as “Unusual Way” is intercut with dialogue.

As in CHICAGO, Rob Marshall tries to open up the film — instead, what happens is that boundaries are lost, scenes become discontinuous. Ghosts wear colorful clothing. Black, White, and Color, so integral to the original musical, is completely lost here. The script is changed beyond recognition…Carla is weakened and given a suicidal plot! What??? Guido’s ultimate decision to shoot himself or not, is also cut.

I could go on. I will stop here. I had a very difficult time sitting through this movie, a story and score that I just adore. This is an awful adaptation. I give it a C as a movie, a D- as an adaptation of a stage musical, or one star for effort. Wait for the DVD. The movie adaptationn of Mamma Mia looks like a masterpiece compared to this awful adaptation, because it at least followed the original script with a sense of integrity.

For Musical Theatre purists….Songs from the score of NINE that are cut in the movie version:

The Germans at the Spa…Only With You…the Follies sequence of Folies Bergeres…Guido’s Vision…Nine…The Bells of St. Sebastian…A Man Like You…the duet portion of Unusual Way…The entire Grand Canal sequence…Simple…Be On Your Own…Getting Tall…and all underscore music of the second act of the musical.

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CITY OF ANGELS at Croswell is jazzy and “reel” fun… August 1, 2009

Posted by ronannarbor in Entertainment, Theatre.
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Croswell Opera House has a doozy of a show in the Tony-winning CITY OF ANGELS currently playing in Adrian.

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Considered by many to be Cy Coleman’s best score, from the rhythmic driving beat with scat vocal quartet accompaniment to the patter of “Everybody’s gotta be somewhere” and the lush jazzy “It needs work” the score is a masterwork, that sounds utterly fantastic in the hands of musical director Jonathan Sills and his more than able orchestra. It’s more than just accompaniment in this show, it’s the drive and energy to which the piece is set, and it delivers from start to finish.

The cast is top notch – with special kudos to UM vocal performance student Joshua Glassman as writer Stine, whose vocal training is evident from his first note through his last, where his voice projects naturally and cleanly without ever seeming forced, even in big belt numbers like “Funny”. It’s a joy to hear, and this young man has a long successful career before him. See (and hear) him here first.

It helps that he and James Swendsen (alter-ego detective Stone) have a natural chemistry together on stage — they play off of each other in a fashion that truly delineates the creator/creature line and makes for a fun flip when the lines get blurred in later goings. Swendsen has a more pop-oriented sound to his voice, and the two of them match remarkably well vocally in their scenes together.

The women fare equally well in Sarah Lynne Nowak’s Donna/Oolie  and Emily Tyrybon’s Alaura/Carla. Both have terrific stage presence and voices to match.

Bruce Hardcastle turns in an energetic performance as Buddy/Irwin. In a role that threatens to carom out of control on each turn, it doesn’t, and remains funny and consistently on character throughout. Other supporting players range from great (the quartet) to good. There are a few missed notes here and there by supporting players, but nothing that distracts from the overall skill level of this adept cast.

The set looks great and works well with it’s split level design, the show moves rapidly from scene to scene and set changes don’t miss a beat, and the lighting is appropriately bright and colorful for color-scenes and moody and shadow-strewn for the Black and White “movie” scenes. What originally seems a bit murky and dark in the opening sequences eventually establishes a visual design that just plain old works as the show progresses.

That it all hangs together so well, and so cleanly, is the wonderful work of director/choreographer Stephanie L. Stephan. She understands that this is a difficult story to follow, and directs with large, masterful strokes that allow the audience to easily follow the action on stage. No mean feat, considering the many plot turns, and the stage-convention of switching back and forth from real-life to alter-ego movie action throughout using the same actors. This was achieved on Broadway through miraculous (and at that time ground-breaking) instantaneous ability to drain color out of sets and costumes through lighting and paint technique. Here it is up to the director to make it work, and it works terrifically.  This is a very difficult musical to design and produce, as other theaters can attest, from the passable production at University of Michigan a few seasons ago, to the disastrous Ann Arbor Civic Theatre production many years ago. Make no mistakes, this current production is in a league of its own. Congratulations.

The script and lyrics are smart and funny, with enough suspense thrown in to make it all work. I saw the production in its original Broadway run several times, and it becomes smarter and wittier with each viewing. Mix-in the tremendous musical score, the great performances, and swirl it all around by a top notch director and crew, and you have a tasty, jazzy, funny musical comedy treat at Croswell Opera House this summer, my favorite by far of this season’s offerings — not just at Croswell, but anywhere regionally this summer.

City of Angels continues this weekend and next weekend. Tickets at croswell.org or 517-264-SHOW(7469).