Mary Stuart Masterson has been offered the choice role of Luisa in David Leveaux's spring 2003 Broadway staging of Nine, for the Roundabout Theatre Company, composer Maury Yeston told Playbill On-Line.
"Her audition was one of the most exciting auditions I've ever witnessed," Yeston said, noting that not many people know film and TV star Masterson as an actress who sings. "What makes me happy about this is remembering that Nine [in 1982] was a debut for Karen Akers, for Shelly Burch, a New York debut for Liliane Montevecchi, and I love that this production will have that characteristic to it."
This is also the Broadway musical debut for Antonio Banderas, playing filmmaker Guido Contini, an artist pulled in a hundred personal and professional directions as he's on the verge of turning 40. The lovers and collaborators in his life – all women — swirl around him, but one constant in his experience is his wife, Luisa.
Masterson appeared as a child actress in "The Stepford Wives," and came into her own with 1987's "Some Kind of Wonderful," followed by major roles in "Fried Green Tomatoes," "Benny & Joon," and the title role on the TV movie, "Lily Dale," drawn from the Horton Foote play. In 2001, she got her own TV series, "Kate Brasher." Masterson is the daughter of writer director Peter Masterson and actress Carlin Glynn (both known for The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas).
"The marriage of Guido and Luisa is the absolute core of the show," Yeston explained. "In other words, we believe this man and this woman absolutely belong together and that they are eternally linked and that it is fate and destiny that they should be together. And the tragedy of Guido is that he doesn't realize that." The Tony Award-winning composer-lyricist said Leveaux (who helmed Broadway's recent The Real Thing) has "an intrinsic ability to speak to and attract interesting and surprising talent to a project. It was David who brought Antonio Banderas aboard. The cast so far is Antonio and Chita Rivera and Jane Krakowski and Laura Benanti, for which I'm eternally grateful."
Yeston said Leveaux is setting the show in the 1960s, around the time that the musical's source material — the Fellini film masterpiece, "8 1/2" — was released. The work is still set at an Italian spa, Fontane di Luna, where Guido seeks refuge. The period setting "takes the curse off it, with respect to any accusation of sexism," Yeston said. "It was a different time, when Kennedy was President, the time when Fellini was making '8 1/2' and people read Playboy magazine and there wasn't a thought about the sort of social politics that we have today. Not that I'm suggesting we forgive it, but we understand it and we take it in context when we see it set in that time."
Yeston doesn't view the show as a "revival" but as David Leveaux's new production. "I saw his production of it at the Donmar Warehouse [in London] and I saw a reproduction of it in Spanish in Buenos Aires," Yeston said. "David Leveaux has completely reinterpreted it and redefined this piece. First of all, he's made it smaller by using 16 women instead of 21, and one boy instead of four boys. Being an Englishman with a great deal of experience in Europe, he has made it European in a way that the [original] American production was very American and highly stylized. Third of all, David's stock and trade is a fantastic ability to work with actors and an ability to work dramatically to get under and into the characters and the emotional contours of the story. He's made it a domestic drama about a marriage; I think [original director] Tommy [Tune] left him room to do that. On the one hand [in 1982] we had something I'm always grateful for: This extraordinary vision of 21 women in black dresses in silhouette against a white set, which was highly stylized and quite shocking.
"That has left room for another go at the material from another direction. Not that David's visual sense isn't equally stylish, but I think that he's come at it from a European sensibility. It's a reinterpretation. Rather than bringing something back the same way it was 20 years ago, there's enough in this piece so that somebody would want to find ways that it's meaningful for us today."
Yeston said the orchestration will be a 15-instrument version of Jonathan Tunick's orchestra reduction heard in the national tour of Nine, which starred Sergio Franchi. "Knowing Jonathan's extraordinary solo work for things like woodwinds and horns, it will come across as a chamber version of Jonathan's work on a Broadway show, which is musically very interesting," Yeston said.
The score will have "some adjustments" but not wholesale cuts or new songs. The scenic designer will be Scott Pask and the choreographer is Jonathan Butterell (A Man of No Importance).
Yeston said he and book writer Arthur Kopit will be "there as cheerleaders and as coaches, and if anything needs to be done, to do the necessaries."
Yeston observed, "I had my shot with Nine in 1982, and I could not have been happier at the time. Now it's David Leveaux's turn. This is his Nine."
Among Leveaux's recent Broadway credits: Anna Christie, Electra, The Real Thing and Betrayal. Yeston took home the Best Score Tony Award for both Nine and Titanic.
For information about the Roundabout Theatre Company, visit roundabouttheatre.org.
— By Kenneth Jones