"The whole production is nothing like the first production at all," Nine mistress Jane Krakowski revealed about the upcoming Roundabout Theatre Company revival of the Maury Yeston-Arthur Kopit musical set to start at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre March 18 and open April 10.
Krakowski continued "I think people should come expecting that. To see nothing of what they saw before." The show, directed by David Leveaux (Broadway's Tony Award-winning The Real Thing), is set in 1960's Italy — when Federico Fellini filmed 8 1/2.
The new Nine will feature Antonio Banderas as the focal point, filmmaker Guido Contini. His lovers and collaborators – all women — are played by a cast that includes Chita Rivera as producer Liliane La Fleur, Laura Benanti as leading lady Claudia, Jane Krakowski as mistress Carla and Mary Stuart Masterson as wife Luisa.
"Nine is the story of a man receiving the lesson of adulthood and maturity," explained the show's sole adult male, Banderas. "I think that was actually where Fellini was at the time he wrote the piece; in a moment of confusion with his own personality and with the world that was surrounding him."
The production is the Broadway debut, but not the first stage appearance—or musical for that matter—for the Málaga native, who was a member of his homeland's National Theatre of Spain and star of the 1996 film version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Evita. But the actor was reluctant about taking a role on the Great White Way. "I was born in the theatre. I've been raised in theatre. This is not known in America because, obviously, I didn't do theatre here. One of the reasons is that, in some way, I have been a handicapped actor because I don't manage with the language as if English was my mother language."
Banderas explained "This play was actually offered to me four-and-half-years ago and I said 'No.' Not because I didn't like the piece, but because I was afraid of assuming so many challenges: doing theatre in English for the first time, plus doing a musical on the stage for the first time. But time went by and [when] David Leveaux came to see me in Los Angeles, I understood that I was in probably the best hands that I could be. I immediately was interested in the way he was approaching the character, about how we were going to do this. What we are doing is exactly what he said to me that we were going to do. I feel very confident now and all I have in my mind is that I want to share this experience with people."
Quick to point out this is not her Broadway debut, the actress who plays the loyal but waning wife to Guido, Mary Stuart Masterson, explains "Technically speaking, I had one line in [the 1982 revival of] Alice in Wonderland. I understudied Kate Burton, but I played the Four of Hearts and I was the Small White Rabbit." The casting of Masterson, who has made a name for herself in such films as "Some Kind of Wonderful," "Benny & Joon" and "Fried Green Tomatoes," may come as a surprise to most who didn't know she can sing. "This is a move directly from my shower onto the stage, from singing in my shower to Broadway," joked Masterson. She added, "The music is written in such a way that expresses exactly the emotion it's trying to convey. So, you almost have to do nothing and it fills you."
The person with the most stage experience in the cast is Broadway legend Chita Rivera, who plays French movie producer Lilliane La Fleur. The two-time Tony Award winner (The Rink, Kiss of the Spider Woman) is known for her turns in West Side Story and Chicago. Though most of the show, musically, remains intact, there are some adjustments, including the lengthening of La Fleur's number "Folies Bergeres," allowing Rivera a tango with Banderas. "All the girls come into the piece and Antonio and I do a tango, somebody had to do it. They said, 'Who wants to dance with him?' and I said 'OK, I will.' Reluctantly," Rivera remarked laughingly.
The actor, who is set to star in the Public Theatre's upcoming production of John Kander and Fred Ebb's The Visit in January, told Playbill the timing of this production (which ends in June) was one of the main factors for her decision to sign on. The other: to support the leading man in his "adventure," as she calls it. "Antonio is brilliant, he's just such an easy guy and he wants to do everything and anything. He's a child, he's devilish, he's powerful. He's like part of the family here. Every once in a while, you go, 'Damn, that's Antonio Banderas.' You forget because you're with him and he's so easy."
Krakowski, known for her recent stint on television in "Ally McBeal" as well as the benefit concert of Funny Girl, explained why she was happy to return to Broadway, "It's nice to go back to the creative experience again where you are rehearsing and get that chance to try all different things. In TV, it's very instant, you make a decision that morning and you film it that day. So, it's really nice to get all this, what I call‚ luxurious time to figure it all out."
As Carla, Krakowski revealed that her costume is quite revealing. "They're really going '60s mod, so I'm wearing a nude mini with some strategically placed beads." Another draw: "I think in the original version I recall that the women didn't really associate with each other; they lived in their own world. And in this [production], we all are with each other at all times and communicate with each other and deal with each other. And so, it adds a whole other element of that woman to woman relationship."
Nine star Banderas summarizes the new production saying, "There are many people that are followers of this play and I think that they are not going to be disappointed."