Book by Arthur Kopit
Music and Lyrics by Maury Yeston
Directed and Choreographed by Earl D. Weaver
Musical Direction by Tara Snyder
Starring Stephen Rochet, Ashley Turner, Khalifa White and Kathryn Darby
Theatre UCF, Orlando FL
Guido Contini (Rochet) represents that weird mix of Catholicism and pornography that made Italian film so exciting in the 1960’s. He’s hitting 40 as his life crumbles around him and troubles are piling high. He’s on the hook to make a movie for his producer Lilianne LeFleur (Danielle Engelman). He’s on the hook to meet his mistress Carla (White) who arrives unexpectedly. He’s on the hook to explain his infidelity to his wife Luisa (Turner), and he’s on the hook to explain himself to himself. It’s sad to see a man come to this, but he DOES look good in his sharkskin suit and oiled back hair. Except for his younger self and a few underage classmates Contini is completely surrounded by stunning women and his mother (Reca Oakley). He’s in secular heaven and personal hell.
While you may find Contini morally vacant, you’ll find this show as stirring and emotional as an opera. Contini bluffs and begs, sings and stammers, always torn between his love of women and an intrinsic need to lie about who he is and what he’s doing as he searches for his lost power to make hit films. Luisa is loyal to a fault as she rips him apart for his transparent infidelity; then she stands up and lies for him in front of the press. His mother doesn’t understand him and his mistress does all too well, and his producer wants him to seduce her with money. Along the way he still pulls off stage magic; his hallucinatory “The Grand Canal” could be a money making film if he can only capture the moment on a piece of script paper. While things spiral into obscurity, he seduces incompetent actresses in “The Germans at the Spa” and when his feet are held to the fire he reused inspiration from Miss LeFleur in “Follies Bergeres”. If you must steal, steal from the best. We are left to ask: Is Contini a worthless piece of poop as a man, or a blocked yet brilliant auteur? Yeah, both, and both at the same time.
The music is great, the acting is tight, and what pushed this show over the top is the brilliant dancing (Weaver and Nicholas John Wood) and even more inspiring set design (Bert Scott). I greased in at the last minute due to traffic and entered the theatre in that dark moment between the cell phone speech and the first note of the overture. The set was astounding, a mix of German expressionist arches, light boxes full of Coliseum, and what is becoming a UCF trademark: a set of dozens of chairs moved and stacked to make whatever locations are essential. This show is epic in scope and a swirl of light and sound. A little film history won’t hurt, but a lot of stage joy will result.
For more information on Theatre UCF visit http://www.theatre.ucf.edu