Mounting a film adaptation of a Broadway musical is never easy, but when the original songwriter is still around and asked to participate, it can be both thrilling and devastating. That’s because one can revisit the original material and augment it; on the other hand, movies are a different medium than the theater — and sometimes parts of the original score must be jettisoned.
Maury Yeston, who won the 1982 Tony for his music and lyrics for “Nine,” a stage adaptation of Fellini’s film classic “8,” understood the realities involved with a film based on his show. Director Rob Marshall quotes Yeston as saying, “What would you do with this if I weren’t here? I want you to think of me as dead,” which Marshall called “hilarious, but also the most freeing thing he could have said.”
So “Grand Canal,” one of the big numbers of the show, is gone. But “I Can’t Make This Movie,” Italian director Guido Contini’s lament over his current project, has been extended for a much longer scene with Daniel Day-Lewis as Guido. And Marshall asked Yeston to write three new songs for the film.
Guarda la Luna” (Look at the Moon) was penned specifically for Sophia Loren’s turn as Guido’s mother. In the Broadway show, the mother’s song “Nine” was written for a high soprano, but, as Yeston points out, “Sophia Loren has such a warm, beautiful, contralto voice,” so he set out to write something more appropriate.
Marshall suggested that Yeston’s haunting act-two instrumental “Waltz From ‘Nine might make the perfect music; Yeston wrote a new lyric for Loren to sing to the 9-year-old Guido. (Its music not being original to the film, however, will disqualify it for Oscar consideration for original song.)
Concerns that younger audiences would not understand the importance of Italian movies in the 1960s dictated a second new song and a big production number.
Kate Hudson, as an American reporter for Vogue, sings and dances the energetic “Cinema Italiano” — as Yeston notes, “She celebrates the 1960s and everything that the Italians meant in terms of style, sensuality, clothing, sexiness. … She thinks Guido’s a genius, and she’s singing about how important he is to world culture.”
The most dramatic of the three new songs is “Take It All,” sung by Marion Cotillard as the director’s long-suffering wife Luisa, who, as Yeston points out, “is the last of the women who peel away from him. The song is a nightmare for Guido, an exercise in anger and public humiliation which she shoves back down his throat as she walks out on him.”
It’s a pivotal moment in the film, and all the more surprising when Marshall and Yeston reveal that it was originally written as a trio for Nicole Kidman (the actress), Penelope Cruz (the mistress) and Cotillard (the wife). “I knew I’d made a mistake,” says Marshall. “It needed to be incredibly powerful, but also humiliating and horrifying for him.” The number was retooled for Cotillard alone.
The final piece in “Nine’s” musical puzzle was an original score by Italian composer Andrea Guerra (“Hotel Rwanda”), whose father, Tonino, was one of the leading writers of Italian cinema of the era, penning “Amarcord” for Fellini and “Blowup” for Michelangelo Antonioni.
My job was to write an original score with an Italian flavor,” Guerra writes in an email from Italy, “providing a sense of continuity and unity between the songs … and providing the character of Guido with his own theme, which returns throughout the film.”
Guerra brought Italian accordion and mandolin soloists to the London recording of his 25-minute score. He recalls meeting Fellini often as a child, and while he met Fellini’s composer Nino Rota only once, he says he admires the Rota scores as “vital to the dreamlike dimensions of Fellini’s films” and cites them as an influence for his own music in “Nine.”