A midlife crisis is always a good spectacle, and as a friend noted, the Italians have been having them in style since Dante. Lakewood Theatre Company is getting in the spirit with its current Nine, a Tony Award-winning musical written in 1982 by Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit. All good stories bare repeating: Nine is based on Frederico Fellini’s 8½ , a semi-autobiographical movie about failing to make a movie, and Nine was made into a film in 2009.
Lakewood keeps outdoing itself this year, and Nine keeps the pattern going. The stage is a labyrinth of scaffolding, faded Roman columns, three projection screens, and moving sets. It’s not the peaceful and grandiose spa where the film is set; it’s a little slice of Italy. The show has a cast of 21, most of them long-legged, curvy, and well-coifed creatures whose form we appreciate and call women. There are only three men, and they play the same character, Guido Contini, star director and writer of the screen.
Matthew Hayward is Guido, a stand-in for lead Marcello Mastroianni in the film, who in turn was the stand-in for Fellini, the star director and writer of Italian Neo-Realism. Hayward’s Contini is unearthly handsome, like Mastroianni, with the same rough edges of a man who’s seen too many women: the tousled bedhead, the striking 5 o’clock shadow that exudes testosterone and accents the angles of his finely boned chin. Hayward is well-suited, with a white starched shirt and thin tie, vestire bene for the iconic early ’60s. He’s a little slumped at times, and with 18 women on his heels, Jay-Z – who’s known for 99 problems, but not with females – would buy him a drink or two. Contini persuades his wife, Luisa (Chrissy Kelly-Pettit), to get away and take in the waters at an ancient spa. In the meantime, he’s creating a diversion to procrastinate on a script deadline and mental breakdown. Hayward delivers Contini as a scattered earnestness in his deceptions, a playboy with a believable Northern Italian accent. Hayward sings a robust and flawless The Grand Canal, a solo with a complex syncopated rhyme scheme and rhythm, that left the audience in shock.