AISLE SAY: City Theatre’s NINE is Consummate in So Many Different Ways

by Greer Firestone

If there is a trophy for getting the max out of the most minimal of resources, (drum roll, please) the award goes to City Theatre Co.

The cast of City Theatre Company's NINE, playing in Wilmington DE through May 21. (Photo credit: Nicole Ferrara)

The stage is shoehorned in a tiny black box theater in Opera Delaware’s riverfront studios, seating cannot be more than 100 and whatever budget there is for tech, costumes, makeup and hair is as lean as Mick Jagger.

But creativity has no boundaries.  Producer/Director Michael Gray has kept his committed troupe together for nearing two decades. Their stated mission is to “rid the planet of complacency, redundancy, indifference and fear.” The world is full of all that presently. I am unsure how the group reaches out to nattering nabobs of negativism across the universe, but as for Wilmington, with each season they have remained true to their anthem.

NINE premiered on Broadway in 1982. It was the stage version of Federico Fellini’s wildly erotic film fantasy “8 1/2”, focusing on film director Guido’s trepidation at his 40th birthday.

Guido (Michael Gray) is a libertine, a philanderer and a womanizer – in other words, my role model.  And…he’s married.

Would such a man wear a white shirt (as does Gray) or shimmering black silk? Should such a man wear a daring Italianate string tie rather than the broad striped one chosen by Gray? Lose the tie, you Lothario, you!

These criticisms seem petty in relation to the exhilarating performance of Gray and his committed cast.

The scene opens with the gaggle of women singing of their unrequited love for our main man.  “Guido’s Song” follows, an admixture of soul searching serenades similar to “Soliloquy” in ‘Carousel’ or “I Am What I Am” from ‘Les Cage Aux Folles’. Gray’s facile delivery makes for great storytelling in song.

Carla (Ashley Harris), Guido’s primary non-wife squeeze, achieves greatness in keeping her towel at just the right position while creating lascivious images in the minds of the men in the audience.

Liliane LeFleur (Karen Murdock) lived and breathed the role of Guido’s film producer. Murdock continues to be one of the finest singer/actors in the region. The finest detail does not escape her, even to the exquisite choice of her very European hair style. Visually reminiscent of both Judy Garland and Edith Piaf, her accent was the best of the cast. Le Fleur led the major production number “Follies Bergeres” with great energy and engagement.

Saraghina (Eleonore Thomas) delivered such a barefooted performance so Italian earthy I could visualize her stomping grapes on the hillside. The on stage experience she gave the young Guido (Nolan Moss) he will never forget!

The eight member orchestra must have been sitting on each other’s shoulders in the cramped space allotted. Conductor Chris Tolemeo created a beautiful sound with instruments not normally considered in community theatre; cello, woodwinds and violin. The cellist, Ezgi Yargici, was especially evocative in “Simple”.

The closer of Act I, “The Bells of St. Sebastian” is a searing expose of the hypocrisy of Catholic school education.

Choreographer Dawn Morningstar was creative with the large numbers of people and their varying degrees of dance experience.

Through 21 May

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