Hart Theater Company counting down to ‘Nine the Musical’
Production is the last for director Amber Hansen
Hart Theatre Company: ‘Hart the Musical’
- When: 8 p.m., Sept. 1-2, and 7-9; 6 p.m. Sept. 3 and 10
- Where: The Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St.
- Cost: $29-$49
- Phone: 855-745-SHOW
- Web: parkcityshows.com
“It was my dream musical to direct, and ever since I first heard the music, I knew this would be an interesting story,” said Hansen, who is also the Egyptian Theatre’s artistic and producing director. “This will also be the last musical I think I’ll direct. I’m at a point in my life where I have to be a mom, and there is so much I need to be doing.”
“Nine,” based on Federico Fellini’s 1963 semi-autobiographical film “8½,” centers around the character Guido Contini, a famous Italian film director and ladies man. It examines his relationships with his movie star wife Luisa, his mistress Carla, his producer Liliane and his mother, according to Hansen.
The original musical, which celebrated a Broadway opening in 1982 starred Raul Julia, and it won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
In 2003, a revival of “Nine” featured Antonio Banderas as Contini, and won two Tonys. Six years later, it was made into another movie featuring Daniel Day Lewis, and directed by Rob Marshall.
The last time the musical was performed in Utah was in the 1980s by the Salt Lake Acting Company, according to Hansen.
“I never saw an opportunity in Utah to do it, until last year, when I began working with the Hart Theater Company, which was new,” she said. “Their whole mission is to produce works that are seldom done in Utah.”
Hansen had directed Andrew Lippa’s 2000 musical “The Wild Party” for Hart Theater, which was based on a 1928 poem by Joseph Moncure March.
“I told the people at Hart that they should do ‘Nine’ if they wanted a good musical that not a lot of people have done and has a lot of strong female characters,” she said. “I told them I would produce it at half cost, and direct it. And they went for it.”
The production, which is currently playing in Taylorsville, until it comes to Park City, came together “beautifully,” Hansen said.
“Vocally this musical is amazing, because the cast is perfect, and it’s made up of some good regulars that you will see at the Hale Center Theatre,” she said.
Emily Wells, a co-founder of Hart Theatre plays Carla, Contini’s mistress. Julie Silvestro plays Liliane and seasoned opera singer Jin-Xhang Yu, who recently moved to Utah from New York, plays Luisa, Hansen said.
“We also have Julia Gershkoff, who is an opera singer and performs with the Utah Opera, plays Guido’s mother,” she said. “And Erin Royall Carlson, whom many people have seen in musicals in Utah, plays Claudia.”
Hansen thought she would have a difficult time casting Contini, but found him in Diego Rodriguez.
“Diego is an actor from Argentina, and he’s such a powerhouse,” she said. “He’s the consummate professional, and he’s on par with Raul Julia and Antonio Banderas.”
The cast is backed by a live orchestra, directed by Anne Puzey, Hansen said.
“So this is really one of those big Broadway shows that you will see on a small stage,” she said.
When Hansen began working with the cast, her favorite musical numbers in the production were “Be Italian” and “A Call from the Vatican.”
“I couldn’t wait to get started on those,” she said. “But while I still love those songs, I think the title song, ‘Nine,’ performed by Guido and his aunts, is so beautiful because everything fantastical about musical theater — the costumes, dancing and feathered fans — are there.”
Hansen has also grown fond of the other songs Contini performs, including the musical’s most notable piece, “The Bells of St. Sebastian.”
“It’s the quintessential song that I think defines the relationship between Guido and his mother,” she said. “It also sets up his relationship with God, his religion and the culture he grew up in, and I think it sets off a trajectory of how he was able to cope with his life.”
Hansen also feels a kinship with Contini’s character.
“During one song, his wife sings ‘My husband makes movies, and he lives in a dream and he is never present,’ and I have found that I have struggled being present as a wife and mother,” she said. “I know I need to be present with my family, but I do stay up late at night or daydreaming, working and coming up with ideas. So I feel like Guido and I are connected artistically, although I’m not a womanizer. But I guess if I was a successful Italian filmmaker, maybe I would be.”
Hansen relied mostly on the actors’ intuitions to bring the characters to life, but did call for some workshops to help them find their motivations.
“We dedicated a whole rehearsal to relationships with each other, especially with Guido, because he is the center of it all, but we also wanted to examine the relationship these women had with each other,” she said. “A lot of these scenes take place in Guido’s head, so we spent a lot of time making those scenes realistic.”
Hansen’s draw to “Nine” stems from her respect for Fellini’s films.
“He’s so bizarre, but in a class all of his own,” she said.
Another lure was the musical’s score, written by Maury Yeston.
“I have been obsessed with the music for a while, and when I saw Rob Marshall’s film I thought it would be such a fun show for women,” Hansen said. “There are so many great female characters, big dance numbers and the blurlesquey type stuff that I like to direct.”
As years passed, Hansen couldn’t get the musical out of her head.
“Everytime I heard a song or the score, I would fantasize about what I would like to have a cast do on stage,” she said. “So this has haunted me for a long time.”
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