chrissy kelly-pettit

The Divine Comedy of ‘Nine’

Lakewood's brash and splashy neo-Fellini stage musical ups the ante in the iconic film classic '8½'

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 as Guido and Ecatarina Lynn as Carlo in "Nine." Triumph Photography

Matthew Hayward as Guido and Ecatarina Lynn as Carlo in “Nine.” Triumph Photography

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.

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Theater review: A poignant ‘Private Lives’

Director Scott Palmer goes past the fluff to Noel Coward's dark center

Chrissy Kelly-Pettit as Amanda and Adam Syron as Elyot in Private Lives. Photo:

Chrissy Kelly-Pettit as Amanda and Adam Syron as Elyot in Private Lives. Photo: Casey Campbell Photography.

Amanda and Elyot can’t live together, but they can’t stay apart, as Joe Jackson once sang. The divorced couple remarry other partners — and find themselves honeymooning next door to their also-just-remarried partners. We’re all set for a laugh riot, right? And eventually, we know (from lighter Shakespearean comedies to Astaire and Rodgers films on down), the estranged partners will discover they really love each other, reunite and live happily after ever, blackout.

That’s what happens in Noel Coward’s 1930 masterpiece Private Lives, all right. But all that happens in the first act … and there are two more to go.

Where Coward takes us next isn’t at all what we’d expect, particularly from a playwright with a reputation for wryness rather than rage, and (by modern standards) superficiality more than psychological depth. Which makes Private Lives‘s ultimate destination — messy, painful reality rather than bubbly wishful thinking — all the more surprising, even 80 years later, when we inhabitants of the age of snark think we know all about puncturing ideals.

And that’s why Bag and Baggage Theater’s unexpectedly poignant production of Coward’s “intimate comedy,” which ends this coming weekend, has as much to offer today’s relationships as it did our great grandparents. Despite the period setting, the story feels so modern, I can imagine a staging conducted entirely in text messages.

I can also imagine one that plays up the withering Coward wit and its unlikable protagonists’ sarcasm. But instead, director Scott Palmer unflinchingly looks beyond the cynical humor and into the very dark and real flaws that real people in real relationships harbor, and which ultimately keep couples that we imagine would be perfect for each other apart. It’s a Private Lives for the post-Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf generations.

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