No, not the movie musical that’s looking increasingly less likely to satisfy the Weinstein brothers’ Oscar hopes. This is from 1982, when the original musical was playing on Broadway, starring the late Raul Julia as the Italian director going through a mid-life crisis. One of the hosts of this local New York TV show is Jack Cafferty, whom you probably recognize as Wolf Blitzer’s comedy partner on CNN. (The dynamic they had — Cafferty clearly thinks, accurately, that Blitzer is an idiot; Blitzer doesn’t get it because he’s, well, an idiot — was the best part of the channel.)
The movie, having been subjected to Rob Marshall’s one-trick-pony direction (and it’s a dopey trick: presenting every musical number as a fantasy sequence is limiting, unnecessary, and headache-inducing), will probably not make much of a case for the show. In my opinion, Maury Yeston’s score is the last truly great Broadway score, songs that are melodic, funny, character-based and above all, theatre songs, not some guy singing songs that stop the action cold to explain things we already knew. Good musical-theatre songs don’t necessarily advance the plot, but they do lend themselves to staging, reactions from characters who aren’t singing, shed some light on themes/emotions that aren’t fully explored in the dialogue scenes.
The show had its problems, most obviously the fact that there’s no plot and the book could never come up with a clear organizing principle for the various segments, the way the original movie did. But it was an effective theatre piece thanks to the songs, the cast, and the direction by Tommy Tune, who — instead of trying to imitate Fellini — presented a very (again) theatrical vision, with all sorts of gimmicks like black costumes against a white set, a character ending a song by walking off the stage and out of the auditorium, and the basic idea of having only one adult male in the cast (something born out of necessity, since they weren’t seeing a lot of male actors who fit the show apart from Julia). Here’s the interview with Julia, where he discusses how an investor pulled out of the show when he was cast:
And here is Cafferty and co-host Katie Kelly interviewing two of the show’s stars, Anita Morris (whose number “A Call From the Vatican” was not allowed on TV because of the costume and the movements involved) and dancer Lilianne Montevecchi (whose “Folies Bergere” number is briefly seen in a clip). These clips, by the way, come courtesy of the Nine the Musical YouTube channel.
And here are some clips of the production; they were shot in the theatre with an amateur and illegal camera, so they don’t present a great case for the show either — but at least they give you an idea of what the production looked like. There’s Tune’s simple, uncluttered and unflashy staging of “My Husband Makes Movies,” a great character songs that doesn’t need gimmicks, and then there’s the big production number, “Folies Bergere” (part 1 and part 2). Finally, the “Be Italian” number, as performed on a Muscular Dystrophy telethon (Jerry Lewis doesn’t have the only one).