The show was staged in a theater rather than in some neighbor’s old barn the way the Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland did it in the those classic Hollywood movies, but with Larry Paxton starring as Guido Contino, and some of Hawaii’s most talented women as Paxton’s co-stars, Brett Harwood’s weekend production of “Nine” lived up to expectations as a precedent-setting two-night fund-raiser for cash-strapped Army Community Theatre.
Paxton, who starred in Diamond Head Theatre’s fully-staged version of “Nine” in 1998, was superb once again playing Guido in an “in concert” version in which he his co-stars wore formal attire and performed on a bare multi-level stage with members of musical director Melina Lillios’ orchestra on each side of them. Several scenes were enhanced with choreographed movement, but no sets or costumes were necessary to do justice to the story, the lyrics and the score.
Guido, a brilliant and unconventional film director, is dreading his 40th birthday. His last three films have been “flops,” and although he is supposed to start shooting a new film he has no idea what the story is going to be. He hasn’t even started writing the script and one of the investors is threatening legal action.
Then, on the brink of ruin, inspiration strikes — he’ll improve a movie about Casanova with a script based on his own life experiences!
Paxton performed amid a galaxy of talent: Mary Chesnut Hicks (Luisa) as Guido’s long-suffering wife; Tricia Marciel (Claudia) as Guido’s former protégée and muse, who has grown tired of playing the same basic character for him; Cathy Foy (Sarraghina) as the prostitute who introduced Guido to the pleasures of sex when he was nine; Jo Pruden as
Guido’s mother, who tells Luisa with frank regret that Guido’s views on women, sex and relationships all stem from his youthful experiences with Sarraghina.
Shawna Masuda (Carla) claimed her place in the show with her first big number as Guido’s current young mistress. She stopped the show vocally and visually with “A Call from the Vatican,” and, yes, that PR photo that shows her over Paxton’s knee represents some of the choreography from that number.
Hicks was perfect in the bigger and more complicated role of Luisa. Her beautifully nuanced interpretation of “My Husband Makes Movies” touched every emotional particle in expressing the experience of simultaneously confronting and ignoring reality. Hicks was magnificent again with “Be On Your Own” in Act II.
Marciel earned her showcase number, a duet with Paxton in Act II. Foy was such a crowd-pleaser with “Ti Voglio Bene”/“Be Italian,” sung to Chandler Bridgeman (Young Guido) and several ensemble members playing young Guido’s young pals, that the show had to stop until the audience finished applauding her.
The spoken dialogue also sparkled. There was Luisa telling Guido that he should buy his mistress some clothes “so that when she is seen with you she won’t look so tacky,” and Guido’s late mother telling him from Heaven that given the content of his movie “death might be the best way out” of his problems.
Eden Lee Murray brought S&M overtones to her portrayal of Stephanie Necrophorus, a hostile film critic whose primary joy in life seems to be belittling Guido and his work from all angles and perspectives. Renee Garcia Hartenstein, Caroline Lawo, Megan Mount, Lina Doo and Jana Souza stood out among the talented company.