Nine The Musical review

ORLANDO — Ah, to be Guido Contini. What a life.

The good news: Guido is a well-respected Italian film director, a kind of mad Fellini genius who makes visually stunning movies. He has a beautiful and devoted wife. He’s been hired by a top producer to create a new masterpiece.

Now the bad news. Guido’s last three films have been flops that went nowhere. His producer is well aware of that and warning him that if this one is, too, he’ll never work again. Guido also lacks, shall we say, inspiration. Ideas are not coming to him. Should he make a western? A biblical epic? His producer is asking to see his script, but he keeps procrastinating. Call it writer’s block or the complete and total absence of any creativity whatsoever.

Perhaps Guido will eventually find a way to turn his career around. But he has another, colossal problem: he’s a habitual womanizer. His former mistresses call him constantly. Some threaten to kill themselves if he doesn’t pledge his love. Others are begging their husbands for a divorce so they can marry Guido. There’s a drama in every call, every meeting with a woman he once romanced.

Guido’s got it bad.

Fortunately, the audience attending the Central Florida Vocal Arts production of Nine The Musical doesn’t.

What is Nine The Musical?

More than a year after Nine The Musical was set to charm audiences, the Covid-19 pandemic brought all live theater to a quick halt. Happily, the show finally came to the stage at the Lowndes Shakespeare Theater this weekend, where this epic work with an ensemble cast of 20 made its debut. The wait was definitely worth it.

Fredy Ruiz exudes a tremendous amount of charm as Guido, the hapless film director who can no longer decide if he’s a has-been or an artist simply in a rut. His marriage feels shaky, but he doesn’t want out of it. If only he could just come up with some creativity, some fresh and invigorating ideas for a script. Finally, he decides to review his own life, a la Fellini, and see if there are aspects of his childhood and his early career that can help guide him now. It becomes an arduous task.

It’s at that point we start to understand how Guido got to the sorry state he’s in now. It was a long journey.

The production, which runs for 2 1/2 hours, has some standout numbers and a cast of exceptionally talented vocalists to match, and director Paul Castaneda beautifully balances the show’s humor, pathos, and moments of genuine remorse and sorrow. Guido seems like a comical figure at first, doing his best to fast talk his producer into thinking he’s got a brilliant script waiting to be filmed — and to fast talk both his wife and his mistresses that there’s still passion in the air between them. His sales job gets harder and harder, until it looks like Guido may be on the verge of complete breakdown.

Is Nine The Musical Worth Seeing?

One of the true delights of this production is the cast; and while everyone does a terrific job, there are some standouts. In addition to Ruiz, who carries his role magnificently, I loved Natalie Doliner as his no-nonsense producer, Christina Disla as his loving mom, and Leesa Castaneda as a woman who plays a key role in Guido’s messy childhood.

Erin Brenna Jackson does a superb job as Guido’s long suffering wife.

It’s a spectacular and memorable production, and Nine The Musical will be performed on Friday Oct. 8 and Saturday Oct. 9 at 8 p.m. and Sunday Oct. 10 at 3 p.m. at the Lowndes Shakespeare Theater, 812 E. Rollins St. Purchase tickets here.

As Guido himself said, “What would you like to see that I haven’t already shown you?” To which I saw, encore!

Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright, and author of the book When I Woke Up, You Were All Dead. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.

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