In a winter of shoveling discontent, there are at least nine reasons to see “Nine” at the Westchester Broadway Theatre.
Cuccioli, a WBT favorite in past productions of “Phantom” — also by “Nine” creators Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit — delivers a human, thinking flesh-and-blood Guido Contini.
Guido has plenty to think about. He used to be a successful film director — writing the scripts, the scores, directing and acting — but he has had three flops in a row and now he has a crippling case of writer’s block.
Add to this the demands of his producer, his wife, his mistress and his muse and Guido’s in a full-blown midlife crisis.
Guido can be petulant, impossible, fearful and lustful and Cuccioli finds each of these and adds layers of complexity that are positively endearing. We may not care for the way Guido does things — there are lots of women in his life — but this enfant terrible is downright charming.
Cuccioli is in excellent voice and his vocal control is noteworthy. Watch as he sings through director-choreographer’s Jonathan Stahl’s challenging choreography, holding notes as he jumps and as he reclines, no easy feat.
He finds the humor and the confusion in songs ranging from the manic “Guido’s Song” to the creative odyssey of “The Grand Canal.”
But the voice is only half the role. Cuccioli fully acts the part, taking his time to listen (or as Guido would say, “leeesten.”) This impossible coincidence of writer’s block and midlife crisis is happening to him, in his head, in view of the paparazzi.
Reason 2: Glory Crampton — as Guido’s long-suffering wife, Luisa — is simply radiant, with a clear and beautiful voice. An actress who sings, Crampton conveys the heart and the heartache in a woman who understands her role in life.
Crampton’s Luisa knows her husband better than he knows himself. She fills “My Husband Makes Movies” — a haunting and lovely song about living with an artist — with love and longing and anguish. Yes, he’s impossible, she seems to say, but this is what I signed on for.
Well, to a point. To a breaking point, which she reaches in “Be On Your Own,” another exceptional vocal performance.
Reason 3: Jonathan Stahl’s pitch-perfect casting and direction demonstrate a light touch and an appreciation for pace. With one notable exception (the “Folies Bergeres” number that inexplicably slowed the action down to a crawl), Stahl’s direction is fluid and smart. The production is stylish and sleek but Stahl also manages to plumb the musical’s thoughtful moments, building nicely to Guido’s breakdown in the song “I Can’t Make This Movie,” a song that is the Italian cousin of “Rose’s Turn” in “Gypsy.”
(As for “Folies Bergeres,” Dana Moore as producer Liliane La Fleur lingered so long over it that the number and the show lost its energy and focus temporarily.)
Reason 4: Lauren Blackman as Claudia, Guido’s muse and frequent film star, positively nails her character, an actress who wants to grow and who is tired of being put on a pedestal. Her confusion and frustration is laid bare in the Act II opener “A Man Like You”/”Unusual Way.”
In her real-world life, Claudia lives in Paris, with an investment banker. She’s not his muse.
Blackman is another excellent singer, showing the control and power behind the fed-up actress.
Reason 5: “The Call from the Vatican,” in which the slinky, wonderful Julie Tolivar — practically poured into her costume — delivers a comic gem with gusto and passion. Later, her feather-light touch on the song, “Simple,” shows the actress’ extraordinary range.
Reason 6: Cari Chrisostomou, as the lusty, funny prostitute, Sarraghina, who teaches a young Guido the key to being irresistable in “Ti Voglio Bene”/“Be Italian,” the musical’s lively anthem.
Chrisostomou chooses to play Sarraghina without the air of menace others have, making the memory sweeter for Guido, devoid of the judgment of his mother and the nuns at St. Sebastian. The actress gives the role everything she has, in a performance that lingers in the mind.
Reason 7: Michael Bottaria and Ronald Case — pulling double duty as set and costume designers — create a stark, all-white canvas upon which Stahl paints the production.
A long ramp bisects the stage with nine boxes one one side and eight on the other. Soon enough, the boxes are occupied by the 17 women in Guido’s life. (Yes, 17.)
The costumes, stylish and chic, give the production a gloss that is entirely winning.
Reason 7 1/2 is Andrew Gmoser’s lighting, including an effective illumination of the boxes from within, making interesting stage pictures all the more compelling.
Reason 8: The ensemble, asked to do much, does more. From the overture’s first notes to the largest production numbers, this is the strongest ensemble the dinner theater has had in years, hard-working actresses who sing and dance without drawing too much focus, who understand the material and have the powers to bring it to life.
Reason 9: Croton-on-Hudson’s Travis Ramirez and Yorktown’s Zach Rand — who alternate as Young Guido — and their St. Sebastian schoolmates: West Nyack’s John Carlos Lefkowitz, Harrison’s Troy Tripicchio, White Plains’ Adrian Noble and Ryan Jones of Darien, Conn.
Simply by their presence, the boys capture Guido’s emotional age, 9, and remind us that Guido suffers from a severe case of arrested development.
Sure, he needs to grow up — to “get tall” as young Guido sings — but Guido at 40 seems too charming to judge too harshly. After all, emotionally, he’s nine.
And who wouldn’t want to stay nine?
Where: Westchester Broadway Theatre, 1 Broadway Plaza, Elmsford.
When: Through April 24. Performances are Thursdays through Sundays, with select Wednesday matinee and evening performances. Wednesday and Thursday matinees: lunch at 11:30 a.m., show at 1 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday evenings: dinner at 6 p.m., show at 8 p.m. Sunday matinees: lunch at noon, show at 1:30 p.m. Sunday evenings: dinner at 5 p.m., show at 7 p.m.
Tickets: $62 to $75, plus tax. (Discounts for groups of 20 or more, children, students and senior citizens at selected performances.)
Next at WBT: “Sugar,” the musical based on “Some Like It Hot,” runs April 29 through July 3.
Photo by John Vecchiolla: The cast of “Nine” at Westchester Broadway Theatre surrounds the musical’s star, Robert Cuccioli as Guido Contini.