Rob Marshall nabs A-list talent for musical

Can lightning strike twice? Rob Marshall, who took the seemingly unfilmable Broadway musical “Chicago” to Oscar-winning heights in 2002, is expected by many to do the same for “Nine,” the Tony-winning musical adaptation of Federico Fellini’s semiautobiographical “8½.”

“Nine,” slated for a November release, stars Daniel Day-Lewis as fictional ’60s Italian cinema icon Guido Contini in the throes of midlife crisis, along with a bevy of Oscar-winning actresses who alternately attract and plague him, including Marion Cotillard (his wife), Penelope Cruz (his mistress), Judi Dench (his producer), Nicole Kidman (his star) and Sophia Loren (his mother). Kate Hudson (an American journalist) rounds out the cast.

“Nine” composer-lyricist Maury Yeston was realistic about handing his baby over to the movies. “It was incredibly important to understand that film is a director’s art, that (Marshall) be able to adapt this stage musical and make a film independent of an overcontrolling Broadway author looking over his shoulder,” he concedes. “That’s the very first thing I said to Rob.”

Still, the film offered Yeston another chance to extend his lifelong obsession with Fellini’s classic. He began working on the musical in 1973, won a Tony for its score in 1982 and tinkered with it for the 2003 Broadway revival. Having worked with Raul Julia in the original and Antonio Banderas in the revival, he was especially aware of “the impact of what some of the casting choices might be on the score.”

The result was three new songs:

  • “Guarda la Luna” (Look at the Moon), sung by Loren. “We were lucky enough to have someone who was part of that great period of Italian cinema, who knew Fellini, who knew Marcello Mastroianni (Guido in the Fellini film),” Yeston says. So he tailored a lullaby specifically for Loren’s voice (but based the melody on the song “Nine” from the Broadway score).

  • “Cinema Italiano,” for Hudson as a Vogue writer in Rome to interview the director. “Italian movies also communicated lifestyle and fashion for the world,” Yeston says, so Hudson sings and dances to a number with “a retro feel, elements of ’60s pop” that is designed to illustrate to younger audiences how important Italian cinema was in that era.

  • “Take It All,” originally written as a trio for Kidman, Cruz and Cotillard but, just before shooting, rearranged as a solo for Cotillard, according to music supervisor Matt Sullivan. “Heart-wrenching” is how Yeston describes the performance by Cotillard (who won an Oscar playing Edith Piaf).

“Rob’s idea of a musical is that people don’t sing to each other in real life, so he doesn’t want them singing to each other in his reality of that life,” Sullivan says. “So we go to a stage, and this is all happening inside of Guido’s mind and his fantasies. The way he sees his world is through theatrics, through this music.”

Music director Paul Bogaev’s biggest job was working with the actors and preparing them to record the songs before shooting. Cruz, for example, was auditioned for the film star but wound up as the mistress; Cotillard auditioned for the producer but was cast as the wife.

Bogaev conducted a 50-piece orchestra in London over three weeks in late 2008. “Rob didn’t want it to be too slick,” he recalled, telling the brass section to play it rough, “like the Sicilian wedding band in ‘The Godfather.'” Italian film composer Andrea Guerra (“The Pursuit of Happyness”) has agreed to write the underscore.

Much of the speculation about “Nine” has dealt with star Day-Lewis: Can he sing? “He’s got a wonderful voice,” Bogaev says. “He had never done anything (musically) except sing in choirs, but he works harder than anybody.” Bogaev worked with him every day for weeks prior to recording.

But Day-Lewis is nothing if not a Method actor. One day during shooting at London’s Shepperton Studios, “Rob and I got called into Daniel’s dressing room, which was designed as a 1960s film director’s office,” says Sullivan. “He’s smoking a cigarette, in full outfit and in character, and he’s telling us how he would like to see this number that he’s performing. And he’s talking to us as Guido Contini. It was a really surreal experience.”

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