Federico Fellini’s “8 1/2” and Maury Yeston’s “Nine” are as different as night and day, literally. “8 1/2” is detached, cold, existential, narcissistic, a beautiful kaleidoscope of confusion and ambiguity, like the shattered dreams of middle age itself that it so brilliantly and hauntingly seeks to explore. “Nine,” on the other hand, is an operatic melodrama that is the male prototype for the plethora of “Menopause: The Musical”-type shows that it would spawn. Both propose the need for an adjustment in attitude as life goes on: Fellini never specifies whether film director Guido has actually committed suicide in “8 1/2,” and that ambiguity is part of what makes the film so endlessly fascinating. In the musical, however, Guido only imagines his suicide, and such an experience becomes life affirming within the choice to stay alive and accept what life has to offer on its own terms. “You be nine, and I’ll be forty,” Guido confidently sings to himself as a boy as both go on to live their parallel lives and sort out their own unhappiness, to each his own. To those who love the film, this is treason, since like the fluidity of life itself, nothing is resolved in “8 1/2.” And yet, as one who loves the film and who loves musical theater, I found myself taken in by Porchlight Music Theatre’s lovingly crafted production. Not that “Nine” is an effective adaptation of “8 1/2.” I doubt that such a thing is even possible, let alone desirable. But if “Nine” is taken as an overtly optimistic and sentimental musical theater “riff” on “8 1/2,” each works on its own, albeit opposite, terms. (Dennis Polkow)
At the Theatre Building, 1225 W. Belmont, (773)327-5252. This production is now closed.