“I can’t make this movie,” laments Guido Contini, the brilliant director at the center of “Nine — The Musical.” Facing a midlife crisis and stymied by self-doubt, the gifted Italian filmmaker — loosely based on the legendary Federico Fellini — is coming up empty in his attempts to weave a plot for his next release.
Theatre Three’s Jeffrey Sanzel can relate. “Granted I’m only a local director of local shows, but there’s always that fear of not getting there,” says the artistic director, who has staged productions at the Port Jefferson playhouse for nearly 30 years. “Everyone feels that struggle at one time or another.”
Taking Fellini’s semiautobiographical 1963 film “8½” up a notch, “Nine” sets to music its protagonist’s struggle with his subconscious, where he mines his relationships with a score of beautiful women for the material of his next film. “It’s about the making of art — what we take from ourselves and others,” Sanzel says.
Selected more than a year ago as one of this season’s Theatre Three productions, “Nine” arguably presents a challenge in the midst of the #MeToo era. In contrast to the show’s original staging, which featured the attractive movie director in the overture summoning — and kissing and caressing — the long line of women in his life, Sanzel has chosen to place him at a table storyboarding his movie instead. “I was hypersensitive to making sure that Guido is not portrayed as a predator, but as a charismatic genius who is loved by women for the nature of who he is,” he says.
“It is clear we are attracted to his brilliance of vision, to his intellect. It is our choice as strong, empowered women. We are not being forced,” says actress and Deer Park resident TracyLynn Connor, who plays Claudia, muse and leading lady to Guido (Brian Gill).
“There are actually two Claudias,” she adds, “the one in Guido’s mind, where she exists more on a pedestal, and the one in reality, where she takes her fancy shoes off, where she’s grounded and strong, yelling back that he has to let go of his childish ways.”
“So much takes place inside his head. It is very abstract and nonlinear,” Sanzel says. The show’s score, written by Maury Yeston, he notes, helps to navigate between the imagined and the real. “It is some of the most glorious music written for musical theater, folding one moment into another.” Sanzel also uses lighting and innovative staging to distinguish between the two.
“The show rarely gets done,” Connor says. “It’s so hard to do — to portray how people see you and how you really are.”
WHAT “Nine — The Musical”
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday, 8 p.m. Friday starting March 1 and 8 p.m. March 14 and 21, through March 23, Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson
INFO $20-$35; 631-928-9100, theatrethree.com