Nine: Musical vs. Film

After a snowy false start, this weekend saw the opening of Nine at the Westchester Broadway Theatre. Yes, it is based on Federico Fellini’s film 8 ½. Yes, it has songs by Maury Yeston. But no, it’s not the same as the movie that came out this fall with Daniel-Day Lewis.

Sure, they share the same source material. But, in the adaptation from stage to screen, film director took so many liberties that it’s evolved into something separate. (Whether or not those liberties are the cause of the movie’s middling reviews) Even Maury Yeston said it himself: “Rob [Marshall] did something that’s neither Nine nor 8 ½. It’s an homage to both.”

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(Another interesting fact: Rob Marshall actually got his start directing at the Westchester Broadway Theatre.)

So, what are some of the differences?

Obviously, there are song differences. Yeston wrote three new songs for the film. “Cinema Italiano,” the number sung by Kate Hudson that was all over the movie’s commercials, is not in the stage musical. Neither is “Guarda La Luna,” a forgettable mother/son number sung by Sophia Loren, or “Take It All,” a powerful ballad performed by Marion Cotillard. They replace some numbers that are in the stage musical but not the film: “The Germans at the Spa,” “The Grand Canal,” and “Getting Tall,” among others.

It’s a shame that some of the movie’s numbers haven’t yet worked their way back into the musical. Though I could live without “Guarda La Luna,” “Cinema Italiano” was one of the most high-energy moments in the film, and the stage production could use that little bit of pizzazz. Also, “Take It All,” at least when performed by the lovely Marion Cotillard,” gives the character of Luisa a powerful moment that she totally deserves.

More important than the song differences, though, are the way the productions are structured. In both the stage musical and the film, we see the world through the eyes of Guido Contini, a blocked Italian film director whose creative and personal life are simultaneously falling apart. Since much of the material centers on his own inner struggles, a lot of the action takes place in his own head.

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In the Westchester Broadway Theatre’s production, there’s no difference between Contini’s inner thoughts and the real world. Both play out right there on stage, and as the audience we shift seamlessly between his fertile imagination and the “real-world” events. While it’s sometimes takes an extra second to figure out if something was real or imaginary, I like to believe that Contini experiences the world that way, too—hard to separate his vivid daydreams from the harsher reality.

In the film, there’s a much clearer separation between the real-world events and Contini’s fantasies. Real-world events take place as typical movie scenes, but when the action shift’s into Contini’s imagination, the scenes all take place in a specific, separate location: an empty stage. On the stage, Contini’s daydreams take the form of fully staged musical theater numbers. (Sometimes, Rob Marshall cuts between two versions of events that are taking place: the real conversations and the fantasy-musical-number of the same conversation.) Marshall employed a similar trick in his other musical film, Chicago.

Personally, I think it’s a little odd to do it that way. The advantage of making a movie is that you don’t have to deal with the limitations of a physical stage. And making a movie where a character is thinking about a musical makes everything feel just one step too far removed. Ultimately, that’s why I think that the stage musical at the Westchester Broadway Theater is better than the film. (Sorry Daniel Day-Lewis. I still love you.)

Photo by John Vecchiolla

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