May 30, 2003
A Sisterhood of Self-Effacing Stars'Too Small for Who?'
Appreciating the importance of the show's ensemble nature was not immediate, Ms. Benanti said, in part because Americans are conditioned to think selfishly about fame. "In the States we choose to do things because they bring us to prominence," she said. "In London, for instance, you go back and forth from being a spear carrier to being Hamlet. What you learn is the value of the piece. And I think it really minimizes ego."
Ms. Benanti, who has received Tony nominations for her performances as Cinderella in last season's Broadway revival of "Into the Woods" and in the 1999 Broadway musical "Swing!," said she turned down this production of "Nine" five times after reading the script and realizing that Claudia had only one major scene and song.
"I literally counted my lines and went, `No,' " Ms. Benanti said. Her agent, too, kept saying the part was too small.
"I finally just went, `Too small for who?' " Ms. Benanti said. "Not too small for me. Too small for Julia Roberts? Yes. And then they said Chita Rivera, and I was like, `Sure.' "
The Den Mother
Several of the actresses said the prospect of working with a stage legend like Ms. Rivera was a major factor in their decision to join the company. "That just made me so happy," said Deidre Goodwin, the show's Lady of the Spa, who recently played Velma in the Broadway revival of "Chicago," a role Ms. Rivera originated opposite Gwen Verdon in 1975.
Sitting around the table talking, it was clear that Ms. Rivera is the den mother of the group, the chairwoman emeritus, the beloved Broadway veteran to whom her younger colleagues are eager apprentices. The other women let Ms. Rivera speak first, laughed heartily at her wry humor, emphatically nodded assent to her words of experience.
Saundra Santiago, who plays a cynical film critic, said: "The saddest thing to me now is just that my father is not alive to see me working with Chita Rivera."
Ms. Rivera had her own initial doubts about doing "Nine," namely not wanting to do a revival. It was the involvement of Mr. Banderas that intrigued her enough to sign on. "I suddenly got this picture," Ms. Rivera said. "Antonio, he's going on an adventure. It's like not wanting to miss a good party.
"I saw Antonio like this golden bird climbing into the sky with all this power and all this energy coming from the tail feathers. And I was on the back, hanging on. I was on it for the ride. And the deeper I got into it, the more I realized I was supposed to be there.
"It was almost not for me. It wasn't like I was on this trip for me. I feel Antonio so strongly, and I really want him to get everything that he deserves because he really deserves it. It's a spiritual thing."
To a person, the featured women in "Nine" spoke of Mr. Banderas as a hard-working and generous colleague, with none of the attitude one might expect from a movie star. "We all absolutely adore him," said Nell Campbell, who plays Lina Darling, La Fleur's rigid bodyguard..
In its initial incarnation in 1982 under the direction of Tommy Tune, "Nine" came under some criticism for objectifying women. Mr. Yeston, who wrote the score, said that by setting the show in the prefeminist 1960's, Mr. Leveaux had made the social context clearer. But Mr. Leveaux said the power of the women was also already present in the material; while they clearly love Guido, they are also certain to survive without him. "It is not a kind of slavish, unthinking devotion," Mr. Leveaux said. "Those women teach that man a thing or two about loving. They are the engine of the piece."
Because the show effectively takes place in Guido's mind, the actresses said they were also united as figures flowing in and out of his imagination. "We're all sort of part of one character in a way," Ms. Masterson said. "One person leaves off; the other person picks up. It's sort of a cross-fade of feeling."
Moreover, while the overt relationships in the play are between Guido and his various lovers, there is a more subtle but unmistakable female alliance. "It actually depends on a certain level of conspiracy among the women," Mr. Leveaux said.
"There is something about the way the women operate together from which Guido Contini is excluded," he added. "They don't need him."
A Lot of LoveAll Shapes and SizesLeather in July'Of Our World'
Mr. Leveaux agreed. "The women who are in `Nine' are the women who said they wanted to be in `Nine.' "
"I have a code: of our world and not of our world," he added. "And these women were of our world."
With Mr. Banderas as the only man, other than the two boys who alternate performances as Guido's younger self, one would expect the cast of "Nine" to have a dynamic distinct from most co-ed Broadway companies. The women said it did. "We all have certain greetings, and we pop into each other's dressing rooms, and there's a connection at all times," Ms. Rivera said. "If somebody is not well, everybody knows it and everybody assists and helps. We all mother each other."
Mr. Banderas said they also mothered him. "When I was sick, I got seven chicken soups in one afternoon," he said. "I feel very nurtured."
He said he had also come to be accepted as one of the girls. "I feel like the only brother," he said. "They consider me another woman; they talk freely about the men in their lives. I love it. I am discovering a new world."