Based on the 1963 film 81/2 by Federico Fellini,

Based on the 1963 film 81/2 by Federico Fellini, the current revival of Nine at New York's Eugene O'Neill Theatre is neither black nor white, but rather a seamless blending of shades that creates a ri

Music and lyrics by Maury Yeston
Book by Arthur Kopit
Adaptation from Italian by Mario Fratti
Directed by David Leveaux
Musical direction by Kevin Stites
Choreographed by Jonathan Butterell
Sets by Scott Pask
Lights by Brian MacDevitt
Costumes by Vicki Mortimer
Eugene O'Neill Theatre, New York

Based on the 1963 film 81/2 by Federico Fellini, the current revival of Nine at New York's Eugene O'Neill Theatre is neither black nor white, but rather a seamless blending of shades that creates a rich tapestry onto which an age-old story unfolds.

Director David Leveaux reinterprets the classic theme of man searching for the "perfect" love yet not being able to recognize it right before his eyes.

Antonio Banderas, who masterfully breathes a convincing zest for life into his Guido, is a virile force that ensnares the audience from his first line and ably brings us along for his romantic journey. Balancing childlike innocence with manly bravado, his acting and singing deliver the subtle highs and lows that make every woman onstage—and the audience in front of him—fall in love.

Leveaux does not exploit Banderas' movie-star sex appeal; instead, he has crafted a production that allows the entire cast to weave their strengths into the lush fabric of this highly stylized interpretation. In fact, the production has snared eight Tony Awards nominations, including nods for Banderas, three of his female co-stars, and Best Revival of a Musical.

Mary Stuart Masterson, a veteran of some 25 films and several off-Broadway productions, brings a rich alto voice, a dead-on Italian accent, and superb acting chops that make her portrayal of Guido's long-suffering wife, Luisa, a portrait of quiet humility and dignity.

Playing the shameless mistress Carla, Jane Krakowski of Ally McBeal fame stops the first act with her provocative rendition of "A Call From the Vatican." She is seductively lowered from the ceiling wrapped in nothing but a white sheet—and exits thus.

These women, along with supporting leads Laura Benanti (Claudia), Myra Lucretia Taylor (Saraghina), Mary Beth Piel (Guido's Mother), and Chita Rivera (Lillian La Fleur), vividly illuminate the prominent female influences in the shaping of Guido's life.

The director craftily utilizes his beautiful chorus in a variety of roles and as a tool for propelling the show, both literally and through time. Little Guido, who represents Guido at age 9, is deftly played by Broadway veteran William Ullrich.

Another prominent supporting role is fulfilled by the set, designed by Scott Pask. With frosted-glass panels that rotate—allowing them to function as walls, doors, and windows—the actors move through entrances and scenes unencumbered.

In Act II, the panels are replaced by a mammoth tile mosaic, which cleverly transforms into a fountain that fills the stage with water for the intricately conceived and choreographed "Grand Canal" musical montage.

A 1982 Tony Award winner, Maury Weston provides music and lyrics that are perfectly in synch with the tone of the story. While no one song is hummable after the show, each in its own context is an essential piece of the whole picture.

Even with all the brilliance this piece exhibits, two factors keep Nine from being a perfect 10. The book by Arthur Kopit falls significantly short in providing material commensurate with the abilities of this richly talented cast.

Second, casting Broadway veteran Rivera, while ingenious, detracts from the ensemble feel and pacing that is an integral part of making the story flow. Even with her grandstanding and talking to the audience, she deserves a special nod for her rendition of "Follies Bergeres," in which she hikes her leg atop Banderas' shoulder during a steamy tango.

Running two hours and 15 minutes, this show offers sensational entertainment value (with ticket prices approaching $100, that's never a guarantee). While many of today's big Broadway revivals beg the question, "Why?," Nine makes us wonder what took so long for this gem to find its way back to the Great White Way.

The musical's soundtrack, Nine: The Musical (2003 Broadway Revival Cast), will be released June 17 on PS Classics. CARLTON CANDLER