Excess and grandiosity seems to be the overarching philosophy of the production. From the powerhouse cast that includes theater veterans and commercial artists, the detailed and flamboyant costumes, to the staggering and elaborate stage design, Bobby Garcia heads a calculated, disciplined and almost cerebral execution. All of which justifiably evokes the grand scale and depth of the complexities in a troubled artist’s mind.
The production takes pride in flying in multi-awarded stage, scenic and projection designer David Gallo to create the environment where Nine takes place. His design successfully takes on Venice while juxtaposing the intricacies of Guido’s psyche. This technique often brings the audience in to the confusion of the artist between reality and personal perception. The masterful and efficient management of space on stage in consideration to the dynamics among the characters was also noteworthy.
The technical aspect of the production effectively adds layer to the narrative and the characters. The lighting playfully heightens the mood in each moment. Even the manipulation of shadows highlights the madness, confusion and clarity in the minds of each character. The curtain even establishes the self-awareness of the story, the grandiosity of the production, and serves as a narrative mechanism to put punctuations in each segment. Needless to say, Atlantis Productions achieves the rare feat of breaking the notion that excess means wastage.
The music and choreography complements the grandiosity and complexity of the production and narrative. Both aspects are highly disciplined and yet successfully evoke the necessary mood and voice that can otherwise be latent in each specific scene. Obviously, choreography in an elaborate stage would be challenging, but it was successfully executed by the performers as they traverse from the festive, delusional, calm and melancholic voices of the moment. The music and songs are deeply evocative, wherever it may be in the required emotional spectrum, and requires a highly technical vocal prowess.
It is important to note that the powerhouse cast lives up to the hype built up leading to the performance. Each performer delivers the emotional and musical demands of their characters. Jett Pangan carries the narrative as Guido Contini as he effectively portrays the confusion, desperation and heartbreaking downfall of his character. It is mind-blowing how Pangan easily sheds his Philippine rock god persona and personifies an elaborate form of humanity in each production that he was involved in. Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo provides the necessary flexibility in her role, as emphasized in her restrained rendition of My Husband Makes Movies to the commanding Be On Your Own. It is noteworthy that Pangan and Lauchengco-Yulo’s chemistry shines through, at times even reminiscent of their performances in Next to Normal. Carla Guevarra-Laforteza steals the show with her lusciously show-stopping performance of A Call from Vatican. Ima Castro stands out with her sultry and contemptuous version of Be Italian while Eula Valdes takes the audience in to her heartbreaking confession in Unusual Way. Cherie Gil seems to have had throat problems on the night that I saw the show. But her mere presence is in itself imposing, and even pronouncing when she takes on the spotlight in Foliesi Bergeres. Jay Glorioso, Yanah Laurel and Sitti make the most of their characters while Mikkie Bradshaw, Reg Claraval, Pricess Virtudazo and Japs Treopaldo provide another layer of perspective on the story.
The scale of the production goes beyond its grandiose performances within the stage. It often breaks the fourth wall to involve the audience, which shatters the barrier that makes the audience passive viewers to, at most, intrusive peeping toms on the lives and psyche of the characters. Moreover, Nine latently provides a cerebral sense of irony in its production and story: the emptiness from trying to capture and recapture everything, the philosophy of excess in the discourse of creative block, and the homage to its cinematic roots.
Perhaps a successful theater production involves an immersive viewing experience for the audience; something that captivates and reels them in to the journey of the characters. The Philippine staging of Nine does just that. It will leave you positively overwhelmed as the curtains close; a lingering feeling that can stick with you for hours (or even days). And just for that, it is well worthy of the ticket price.
The Manila production of 'Nine' runs from September 21, Friday until October 7, 2012, Sunday, at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza Makati. Tickets are priced at P1,700 (Orchestra Center), P1,600 (Orchestra Side), P1,400 (Loge Center), P900 (Loge Side), and P700 (Balcony). For tickets, please call (63 2) 892-7078, (63 2) 840-1187, (63 2) 891-9999, or visit http://www.atlantisproductionsinc.com/.