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Revival of ‘Nine’ Is Less Than 10

October 29, 2003

NEW YORK (AP) _ Of all the musical revivals to arrive on Broadway since ``Cabaret″ in 1998, no show has been more imaginatively rethought than ``Nine.″

Director David Leveaux reconceived the Maury Yeston-Arthur Kopit musical from beginning to end, taking the tale of libidinous Italian film director Guido Contini and turning it into a series of theatrical encounters between Contini and the beautiful women who adore and torment him.

But then Leveaux had the benefit of a superb cast led by Antonio Banderas, making an impressive Broadway debut as Guido, and a galaxy of unique female performers that included Chita Rivera, Mary Stuart Masterson, Jane Krakowski and Laura Benanti.

Now, Banderas and several of his leading ladies have departed and with them, unfortunately, so has some of the effectiveness of Leveaux’s remarkable Roundabout Theatre Company production.

The problem doesn’t lie in the new collection of women. These sirens, who include Eartha Kitt, Sara Gettelfinger and Rebecca Luker, are quite smashing. Marni Nixon, who also joined the cast, is sweetly maternal as Guido’s mother.

It’s the new man at the center, John Stamos, who falters. Despite only a so-so singing voice, Banderas was a natural Guido _ able to be both appealingly boyish and childishly petulant, impossibly egocentric and overly generous. The game Stamos has to work at these contradictions. His performance of a 40-year-old man on the verge of a nervous breakdown is more calculated, and the effort shows. Stamos, best known for his role on the television sitcom ``Full House,″ is also vaguely American, unlike the Spanish-born Banderas, who brought a credible continental sensibility to the role.

But then there are the new women in Guido’s life.

The catlike Kitt, who looks amazing in a black bustier (complete with whip), purrs with her trademark feline intensity. As the producer Liliane La Fleur, she is more French than her predecessor. Choreographer Jonathan Butterell has rechoreographed Liliane’s big ``Folies Bergeres″ number, giving Kitt a waltz rather than the tango that had been tailored especially for Rivera.

The word statuesque was invented for Gettelfinger, a striking redhead of Amazonian proportions who plays Guido’s vulnerable mistress, Carla. It’s a little scary watching her amazing aeronautical entrance and exit during Carla’s big number (``A Call From the Vatican″), but Gettelfinger handles it with aplomb.

Luker has a hauntingly beautiful soprano, a voice that makes exquisite work of ``Unusual Way″ that even in Jonathan Tunick’s reduced orchestrations sounds glorious.

Masterson, who plays Guido’s long-suffering wife, remains from the first cast, and, if anything, her performance has grown richer and more emotionally secure since the revival opened last April at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre.

Several other original cast members continue to shine, especially Myra Lucretia Taylor, as the lusty Sarraghina who introduces young Guido (Daniel Manche) to the mysteries of sex.

Stamos may lessen the impact of this considerable production, but there still are enough pleasures around to make ``Nine″ worth a visit.

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