'Nine:' A gathering of legends
- Mirava M. Yuson (The Philippine Star) - October 1, 2012 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Atlantis Productions has been on a roll this year, following up its productions of Rock of Ages and God of Carnage with the raucous dramedy-musical and equally adult Nine, directed by Bobby Garcia.

Based on Federico Fellini’s semi-autobiographical film 8-1/2, it centers on the character of Guido Contini (Jett Pangan), a famed director undergoing a bad case of writer’s block after suffering from a string of flops. Like every self-pitying mogul portrayed in the media, he decides to take a journey in search of creativity — only that the entire affair takes place in his head. As a result, a bit of self-actualization becomes inevitable.

Representing the inner workings of Guido’s mind is an intricately-woven set, several floors high and composed largely of gray bricks that form arches and have a multitude of doorways. It’s almost church-like, which is ironic, considering the nature of Guido’s character. After all, he is a man who does not hesitate to point fingers at the Vatican when trying to hide his indiscretions.

Speaking of which, his indiscretions make up the bulk of his memories. As the source of his artistry, they comprise much of the proceedings. Essentially, above all else, preceding the title of “famed director” is his less palatable playboy status.

Guido thinks of women — a lot. He calls forth his muses (several women he’s known and loved, and hidden from one another) out of desperation, and they are summoned from every door. They harmonize prettily and patiently listen to Guido’s anecdotes of their meetings.

No wonder a star-studded cast of veterans in Philippine theater has been gathered to elevate the play’s otherwise sleazy premise.

Jett Pangan, who recently wowed audiences in the title role in Jekyll & Hyde The Musical, takes on an even bigger challenge as the self-important “ah-teest” who goes so far as to blame his promiscuity on a woman he met as a child. In the hands of a lesser actor, Contini would be downright despicable, but one can easily take solace in Pangan’s impeccable comedic timing and entrancing portrayal, especially in the more dramatic scenes.

What would a Hollywood musical be without glitzy costumes? Cherie Gil as Liliane “Lilli” La Fleur.

Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo plays Guido’s wife, Luisa, who is largely shafted throughout the play, but retains a regal presence despite all the silent torture her husband puts her through. Carla Guevara-Laforteza is the naïve mistress (who also goes by the name Carla), bursting in now and then to liven up the play whenever the mood gets too somber. Eula Valdes is the ultimate leading lady Claudia, who simply clamors for meatier roles. Liliane “Lilli” La Fleur is every bit the stereotypical costume designer, but is played to perfection by scene-stealer Cherie Gil.

Jay Valencia-Glorioso plays Guido’s soft-spoken mother, in stark contrast to the character of Sarraghina (Ima Castro), a one-scene wonder who was the only other notable adult during Guido’s life as a child. Yanah Laurel is Stephanie, the narrator-cum-fashion journalist and Guido’s latest unfortunate victim.

Other cast members are Sitti Navarro, Jennifer Treopaldo, Reg Claravall, Mikkie Bradshaw and Princess Virtudazo. Lastly, Warren David Saga stands out as Young Guido, whose little ditty Getting Tall stands out as one of the most touching and crucial moments in the play.

Although presented as a slew of chorus girls who harmonize beautifully but are largely used to prop up Guido, the actresses provide much-needed depth to their characters and play off each other nicely, even though they don’t spend much time interacting with one another. Some of them are funny girls, others are resigned, but while Guido struggles to escape his writer’s block, they try, in their own individual ways, to escape Guido.

What seems like a soap-operatic plot is somewhat forcibly complex-ed into a visceral telling of the human experience of growing up. Everything ties together, even the title, which is deliberately left unexplained until the end. However, the musical’s famous tagline “Be Italian” need not apply. Even if it takes place in Italy, one could easily replace the phrase with “Be Filipino” and it would make just as much sense — perhaps even more so, given that the word “showbiz” is embedded in Filipino culture.

The very nature of the musical necessitates a talented cast for it to work. In this unique scenario, the actors of Nine rise above the material that they’re given. Guido’s lack of self-awareness regarding his own behavior is downright frustrating, as is the women’s inexplicable obsession with the man. (Then again, it’s a sad but true depiction of Hollywood.)

On the whole, a collectively grand performance is what elicited a lot of laughter and a standing ovation at the end.

* * *

Nine will have performances on Oct. 6 (8 p.m.) and Oct. 7 (3 p.m.) at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza in Makati City. For tickets, call Atlantis Productions at 892-7078/840-1187 or contact TicketWorld (891-9999) at https://www.ticketworld.com.ph/.

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