Nine: From Fellini's Movie to Broadway Musical to Marshall's Movie
Few Broadway sensations have cinematic roots as deep or as sexy as NINE—a story about art, dreams, love and the emotional exhilaration and inspiration that can only be found at the movies—which now comes full circle back to the big screen in a completely re-imagined adaptation by Rob Marshall, the director of the Oscar-winning "Chicago."
Marshall unfolds the drama of an artist’s mid-life crisis in his own original cinematic language, forged of emotion, music, imagination and kinetic cinematography, that turns the inner lives of director Guido Contini and the women who inspire him into stirring visual fantasias.
It all began with Federico Fellini. His 1963, Oscar-winning masterpiece film, 8½, a daringly surreal and magical tale about a director’s creative crisis, became one of the most talked-about, analyzed and influential movies of all time. Overflowing with a carnival of imagery fused from one man’s tantalizing memories, dreams, flights of fancy, nostalgia, humor and demons, it became to many one of the first films that fully exposed what it really feels like to live inside the madness and wonder of the modern human condition. On top of that, along with Fellini’s other movies, it inspired people around the world to aspire to the dream of living inside the sensual world of an Italian movie.
Since then, many leading contemporary filmmakers have paid homage to 8½ in their own distinctly individual ways. Bob Fosse spun his own life into the surreal fabric of ALL THAT JAZZ, the dance-driven story of a brilliant, self-destructive choreographer trying to come to grips with his past, his women and his mortality. Woody Allen took a completely opposite approach with the comic STARDUST MEMORIES, in which he starred as a disillusioned filmmaker plagued by hallucinations and alien visitations as he confronts the meaning of his work and the memories of his greatest loves.
Now Rob Marshall brings his own creative milieu—his savvy for integrating drama, cinema and music into one seamless fabric—to 8½ via NINE.
The Broadway version of NINE, with book by Arthur L. Kopit and music and lyrics by Maury Yeston, began with another young artist’s Fellini obsession. Yeston had fallen madly in love with 8½ when he first saw it as a teenager. Years later, while teaching music at Yale University in the 1970s, he turned the movie’s image-driven story into a genre-expanding stage musical, ultimately heading to Rome to meet with Fellini and receive his creative blessings.
Yeston decided that if he added the extra element of music-and-dance to the director’s unforgettable vision of a man’s mid-life battles with women, lust, spiritual yearning and creative fulfillment . . . it would it add up to NINE.
When the production premiered on May 2, 1982 at the 46th Street Theatre, what it also added up to was a massive hit. Directed by Tommy Tune, NINE featured the unusual combination of a singular male lead surrounded by 24 female actresses representing every facet of feminine power, strength and beauty. The show ran for 729 performances and became the must-see of the season, dazzling audiences with its inventive, visually striking, high-style design and arresting musical numbers—and sweeping five Tony Awards® that year. The allure of the show continued with a Broadway revival garnering another 8½ Tony Awards® and countless touring and regional productions.
But NINE was destined to undergo another artistic transformation—back to its original inspirational medium: the movies. The idea emerged as Rob Marshall and Harvey Weinstein began searching for a follow up project to CHICAGO, the spectacular story of Prohibition-Era crime that revolutionized the whole concept of merging drama with music and dance, and went on to win six Academy Awards®, including Best Picture. In the meantime, Marshall made his award-winning adaptation of MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA (winner of three Academy Awards), but in late 2006, he and Weinstein announced that their next project would be NINE.
Just as Fellini had personally given to Maury Yeston full creative liberty to use the elements of 8½ like sculptor’s clay to create his theatrical work, Yeston now granted to Rob Marshall the same freedom to give the play a new life on the screen.
“I was absolutely delighted to hear that Harvey Weinstein wanted to make a film of NINE and even more excited that Rob Marshall was going to direct it,” says Yeston. “I feel very strongly that cinema is a director’s art and I wanted Rob to fell completely free to adapt and transform my stage piece to take full advantage of the very different medium and possibilities of film. I literally told Rob: ‘make believe I am dead, because you must approach this with radical freedom and bring yourself fully to it.’ Everyone knows that you can’t just point a camera at a stage and make a movie. It was obligatory for the director to redefine NINE in all of its elements, and that is precisely what Rob did.”
He continues: “I have always felt a personal obligation to Fellini, who so graciously allowed me to adapt his masterpiece, who trusted me to honor and respect it. And now, Rob has returned this gift to me, and also to Fellini, by doing justice to the film.”
Marshall and Weinstein engaged two screenwriters with a unique perspective to tackle their vision of turning NINE into a drama with music: the Oscar-nominated writer/director Michael Tolkin (THE PLAYER) and the late, Oscar-winning writer/director Anthony Minghella (THE ENGLISH PATIENT, THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY), himself of Italian heritage and steeped in a profound love of Italian films. Their writing was inspired not only by Fellini, Kopit and Yeston, but by their own personal experiences with moviemaking, imagination and life. (Minghella would pass away before the film completed production, making NINE his final work.)
Simultaneously, Marshall began auditioning a roster of essentially every leading lady in Hollywood and beyond—because he always believed that the script should be written to the cast, rather than the other way around. Marshall, along with his creative partner John DeLuca, held singing and dancing work sessions with nearly every female star of renown while the screenplay was still being forged.
Meanwhile, Yeston told Marshall to “call me when you need me” and three weeks after their initial meeting, he was on the line. Shortly after, Yeston met with Marshall and John DeLuca around a piano to begin the process of adding three entirely new songs to his uniquely expressive score.
The idea exhilarated Yeston. “We talked about the fact that the stage show had several reality based songs that needed to be re-invented in order to fit the film’s concept: the songs exist as fantasies in Guido’s mind. So the film needed these new songs. It was a chance for me to re-imagine my own work for film,” he says, “and it couldn’t have been more exciting or satisfying for me to write new songs in a different art form for such brilliant stars.”
Despite the decades-long gap, Yeston found the characters seemed as alive as ever to him, especially with the film’s dynamic casting. He wrote the lullaby “Guarde La Luna” with Sophia Loren in mind as Guido’s beloved Mama. “The original song for Guido’s mother in the stage version is a quintessentially high soprano song and Sophia Loren is not a soprano so the song would not have the same effect,” he explains. “My goal was to write a song for Sophia that would still have the same lyrical and musical function but that would respond to her vocal range and, even more so, the very essence of this extraordinary woman whose DNA is part of the fabric of Italian cinema. I took some very haunting music from the song “Waltz from ‘Nine’” in the stage show and transformed that into this song.”
Yeston also wrote a new song for Marion Cotillard as Guido’s weary wife, Luisa: the powerful “Take It All.” It originally was going to be a trio for Cotillard, Nicole Kidman and Penélope Cruz but when that felt at odds with the narrative, a fresh idea emerged. “Rob and John came up with a premise for the song that completely opened a new world for me,” notes Yeston. “It was a chance to give the marvelously talented Marion Cotillard a heart-wrenching, soul-searing performance number and that is what she delivers in the film.”
Finally, Yeston wrote “Cinema Italiano,” a playful ode to the enduring pop culture influence of Italian movies performed by Kate Hudson as a style-savvy Vogue journalist. “Kate has a spectacular voice and is a great dancer so we wanted an up-tempo number rich with dancing and singing for her,” he says. “The song turned out to be a great idea for reasons that weren’t immediately apparent. It became a witty, entertaining way to show audiences of today how in 1965, Italian movies were the new wave of excitement and the very pinnacle of cinematic achievement. It was also a way to reveal how Italian movies not only gave the world a new film style but a new fashion style, as this realm of skinny ties and speedy sports cars became a lifestyle to which people everywhere aspired. Kate took all that and hit it out of the park.”
In addition to the three new songs, Yeston made changes to the lyrics and music throughout. “The songs needed to fit hand-in-glove with the characters as Rob envisioned them and the actors who portray them,” says Yeston.
While a few songs from the original play were cut to enhance cinematic fluidity, as is common with stage to screen transfers, Yeston feels nothing has been lost. “I have not lost any songs because they are still in the stage show. Instead, I have gained a newly transformed version of my work,” he explains. “From the moment I fell in love with 8½, NINE has been a life-long project for me. I love the material and I see it as an on-going process that never is final. At the end of the day, my work is a theory, and it takes performers in a particular medium to make it a reality or audiences. A new version doesn’t cancel out previous versions or future versions. That’s what makes it so thrilling.”
He adds: “Working on NINE with Rob Marshall and John DeLuca was the most life-giving, inspiring and welcoming experience of my creative life. They are meticulous, they are brilliant and the simply inspire changes for the better.”
Yeston also had a chance to hear his re-imagined and re-worked score recorded by a 50-piece orchestra conducted by the film’s music supervisor, Paul Bogaev, who also worked on CHICAGO. “It was thrilling to hear the music go from a smaller Broadway ensemble to a big orchestra,” Yeston confesses. “The music is richer, fuller, sweeping in its treatment. It’s the experience of a lifetime to hear my music like this and I’m enormously grateful.”
Sums up Harvey Weinstein: “NINE is a timeless masterpiece. Inspired by Fellini, one of cinema’s most profound auteurs, it is given a new life by the dramatic film writing of Tolkin and Minghella and the dynamic staging of Rob Marshall and John DeLuca. Nobody can stage sexier or more exciting numbers than Rob—and teaming up with this tremendous cast, he has put together something we’ve never experienced before. I can’t think of a better filmmaker to bring this story to the screen.”
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