There’s no way of knowing, but at some point during rehearsals for the Maury Yeston/Arthur Kopit musical Nine, I wonder whether the University of Pittsburgh Stages cast and crew looked at each other and said: “What the hell were we thinking?”
This 1982 show, loosely based on Federico Fellini’s 8½, is legendary for its tumultuous birth. Yeston had written the score a decade earlier; in 1977, playwright Mario Fratti wrote the book. By 1981, Tommy Tune had signed on as director and thrown out Fratti’s work, bringing on Kopit to write a new script.
The success of Nine — which tells the story of an Italian movie director struggling to come up with an idea for his next project — is a testament to Tune’s talents. A showman from the top of his head to the tips of his tapping toes, Tune created a series of show-stopping numbers out of thin air, showcasing the specific talents of some of Broadway’s biggest female stars. (It was Tune’s idea for one man to play opposite 20 women.)
But take away the Broadway trappings and Tune-inspired razzamatazz and, well, you see that Nine isn’t a very good show. The central character is the clichéd tortured artist whose suffering lets him treat women like dirt. (Ever notice that that character is only ever written by men?) But that’s the least of the problems. The script’s an incoherent jumble: You could stick a scene or song from the first act into the second act (or vice versa) and it wouldn’t matter. Characters and their motivations come and go on whim and there’s not even an attempt at internal logic. Just a mess.
The thing is, it’s harder to do bad shows than good ones. And boy, is this Pitt company working haaaaard. From musical director Roger Zahab and his full orchestra, to this protean company under Dennis Schebetta’s direction, they just keep hammering away at this rock pile. Ricardo Vila-Roger, as the Fellini manqué, leads a huge ensemble with plenty of fortitude, and Bri Ana Wagner finds moments of grace as the misused wife.
If I had the money, I’d pay for all of them to get a massage.