The Four-Letter-Word Theatre is soon to be putting on a wonderful musical, filled with drama, music, dancing and above all, Italian accents. NINE is a musical by Broadway composer Maury Yeston. Written in 1972 after Yeston was inspired by Federico Fellini’s semi-autobiographical film 8 ½, Nine tells the story of Guido Contini, a forty-year-old, very successful Italian film-maker. We meet him as a troubled man, going through a mid-life crisis that blocks his creative flow and leaves him unable to write the script for his next film. To add to that stress, his relationship with his wife is in turmoil and he is forever fixated on all the women that have had an impact on his life.
In essence, Guido is not having a great time.
Amid this story of love and loss are Yeston’s timeless songs, ranging from classically inspired songs to huge showgirl production numbers. The original Broadway production ran of over seven hundred performances and won a total of twelve Tony’s. The Broadway revival of 2003, starring familiar faces such as Antonio Banderas, Chita Rivera and Laura Benanti was also successful, winning eight Tony awards and running for nearly two hundred performances. Overall, the show has proven to be quite a hit.
Despite it’s success, NINE is very rarely put on by theatre companies. It has been ten years since Victorian audiences have had the pleasure of seeing Guido’s story. And so, the Four-Letter-Word Theatre, recently challenging itself with contemporary theatre, is happily bringing this musical to life once more.
Founded only early last year, Four-Letter-Word Theatre intended to provide an alternative theatre company to those based around Melbourne University. It has since put on shows such as David Hare’s The Blue Room and Patrick Marber’s Closer to great success. It has also tackled the dark plays of contemporary playwrights, Sarah Kane. While a musical may seem like quite a difference from their usual fare, NINE actually fits quite well into the challenging shows Four-Letter-Theatre enjoys to present. NINEine has very strong themes of passion, and drama, as well as nudity, sex and violence. It is anything but you’re average musical.
The cast of NINE are thoroughly enjoying the process. I spoke with Josiah Lulham, who plays the lead role of Guido Contini, and Sarah Murphy-Gamble, who is part of the crucial ensemble about their experience with the show and their auditions. Both of them have had extensive experience in theatre, having been a part of the Young Australian Broadway Company for several years. They have both been a part of amateur productions before, with Murphy-Gamble experiencing the 80’s fun of The Wedding Singer and Lulham taking leading roles in A New Brain and UMMTA’s recent production of Curtains.
“It was quite daunting,” says Lulham about this audition process. “It was the first time I have ever really faced a big audition panel. The choreographer, director, assistant director, musical director, assistant musical director and vocal coach were all there.”
“It was clear from that first audition the sort of shows, and level confrontation Four-Letter-Word theatre were accustomed to,” Murphy-Gamble says, “with the audition scene being an adaption from playwright Sarah Kane and having more swear words in it than I think I have ever heard one person say.”
Going from this intense audition period to the rehearsal process, “kept [us] busy” says Lulham, and is continuing to do so with production week approaching. “We have minimum rehearsal of three hours each nights, as well as day rehearsals leading up to the show. Thankfully we don’t have to do bump in!”
Murphey-Gamble adds, “Having nine weeks from our first rehearsal til bump in, and with a large number of songs, dances and scenes to be learnt by a chorus heavy show, we did not have a lot of time to work with. But with four hour rehearsals on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and with sometimes up to nine hours of rehearsals on Sundays there has been a strong sense of NINE in my life recently.”
Despite the intense process, both cast members say that they couldn’t have enjoyed it more, with the “cast [being] some of the nicest people I have ever had the pleasure of working with, and I am beyond sure of the talent each and every one of them brings to this show; which is why I have every faith in the world that it will be an outstanding show.”
A show such as NINE faces a unique challenge of a difficult accent to master. As the show is set in Venice, the majority of characters have Italian accents. “However,” says Murphy-Gamble, “there are different parts that are not Italian. For example I have 3 chorus parts each with their own accent (British, American and Italian).”
“Thankfully, we have had a few Italian speakers in the show,” adds Lulham gratefully. “They have been able to help us with vocal choices. We also have had the help of Hannah Denison, an Italian coach, to guide us into the right accents.”
Another challenge that any actor must face in putting on a show is how much they take the character into their own hands. Often, many notable people have played the characters in the past, and with the recent release of the movie version of Nine there was the option of taking inspiration from actors such as Daniel Day-Lewis or Marion Cotillard.
“I try to avoid seeing other actors play the roles,” says Lulham. “I feel most of the answers I need about my character are there in the text. I also tend to do a lot of research into the period of the show (60’s). Our director has also encouraged some method-acting inspired research. For instance, we went to a Catholic mass, as a bit part of Guido’s character is the Catholic guilt he faces.”
Despite the challenges, NINE has clearly offered it’s actors a real chance to explore themes not usually explored in traditional musical theatre. “This show has put me outside of my comfort zone in every way,” Murphy-Gamble claims, “emotionally; through the intense themes it covers, physically; through the demanding dance sequences and flexibility required and finally psychologically; by having me on stage in a lot less clothing than I ever imagined I would be comfortable with. Whilst all this is true, the challenge of the show has given me strength as a person, and has been one adventure on the way.”
So what can you expect from this show? Nothing you could imagine, according to leading man Lulham. “It defies expectation. Considering the film is so different from the musical, people will be blown away.”
Murphy-Gamble adds, “There is Sex, Love, Monkeys, Rape, Sexualized Violence, Religion, Whores, Tambourines, Feathers, Sequins, Kick line, Nudity, Masks, Suicide, Anger, Pain, Memory, Heartache, Disappointment, and did I mention the train? All in all our show will be both everything and nothing you expected.”
For an entertaining, provocative and unexpected show directed by Sara Tabitha Catchpole and assisted by Shaun Fitzgerald, visit this website:
Producer: Angus Cameron
Music Director: Trevor Maitland
Choreographer: Cassie Pennicuik
4th – 6th & 10th – 13th August
Ground floor, Union House, Melbourne University
Adult $24, Student $18, Union Member $15