Your Regional Guide To The Performing Arts

Theater RED Spotlights Female Talent in ‘Nine the Musical’

Theater RED Spotlights Female Talent in ‘Nine the Musical’
Photo Credit: Traveling Lemur Productions.

Upon stepping into Sunset Playhouse’s intimate 88-seat studio theater for Theater RED’s Nine the Musical, audiences will be immersed into a classic Hollywood film noir.


The cast will be costumed head to toe in black, which includes black wigs for the women. Likewise, the completely black-and-white set design with hand-painted portraits by Andrea Klohn will parallel Federico Fellini’s 1963 semi-autobiographical film 8 ½, which inspired Nine the Musical.

While Nine is traditionally done with a cast of almost 30 people, director Eric Welch downsized to nine women and one man. Since Welch merged the main characters with the ensemble, each character is on stage for nearly the entire show.

“There aren’t really that many women heavy shows, but there are so many talented women in this area,” Welch says. “It’s such a powerful script that it can really stand alone without a heavy set and costume. We really want to boil it down to the music and the acting.”

Welch recently joined Theater RED as an artistic associate, where he will head the company’s newly formed musical division.
Nine is the first musical solo produced by Theater RED, following a successful collaboration with Milwaukee Opera Theatre for A Chorus Line in 2017.

Nine follows Guido Contini (Timothy J. Barnes) as he suffers an inevitable midlife crisis. He can’t come up with a script for his latest movie, and his wife of 20 years, film star Luisa del Forno (Rae Elizabeth Paré) wants to divorce him. While trying to pay attention to his wife during this difficult time in their marriage, Guido’s mind soon becomes preoccupied with the voices of important women from his past, present and future.

Rae Elizabeth Paré as Luisa. Photo by Traveling Lemur Productions. Hair and Makeup by  Eric Welch. Costumes by Briana Rose Lipor.

“I’m excited to see the audience members pop up in the moments when they see versions of themselves in these characters,” Paré shares. “They are all so relatable.”


As Guido’s wife, Paré says her character has trouble separating the man that swept her off her feet, with the man who now ignores her, as she passionately describes in her number “Be on Your Own.”


“A great thing about this show is that all the women really get a chance to shine in their own numbers,” says Marcee Doherty-Elst, producing director and co-founder of Theater RED. “I always find myself in awe of this cast and their talent.”


Doherty-Elst plays Saraghina, the prostitute who taught Guido about love at the impressionable age of nine. On the opposite end of the spectrum, she also plays Stephanie, a harsh film critic who isn’t shy about her disapproval of Guido’s work.


So how did the musical Nine get its name? We first have to look back at the film that inspired it. Fellini named the film 8 ½ after his prior body of work, which included six full-length films, two short films, and one that he co-directed. Maury Yeston, who wrote the music and lyrics for Nine, justified the new title by explaining that adding music is equivalent to “half a number more.”


Unlike 8 ½, which mainly shows Guido’s perspective, Nine focuses on how these women have drastically changed Guido’s life, from the young actress that serves as his muse, to his demanding producer.



Marcee Doherty Elst as  Saraghina. Photo by Traveling Lemur Productions. Hair and Makeup by  Eric Welch. Costumes by Briana Rose Lipor.

In her Theater RED debut, Samantha Sostarich plays Carla, Guido’s naïve and sensual mistress. The challenging music, which goes as far as six-part harmonies, and the strong characters drew both Paré and Sostarich to the show.


“Carla is all the emotions, all the time,” Sostarich jokes. “She believes Guido is going to leave his wife for her and everything is going to turn out perfect. She doesn’t realize that they are on completely different wavelengths. Guido needs attention from a lot of different women."

Samantha Sostarich as Carla. Photo by Traveling Lemur Productions. Hair and Makeup by  Eric Welch. Costumes by Briana Rose Lipor.

As a clever way to promote the show, Traveling Lemur Productions took stylish black-and-white portraits of each actor in costume. The photos have since turned into animated gifs and business cards, with a one-word descriptor for each character at the top.


Doherty-Elst jokes that she never thought she would be giving out pictures of herself with the word “prostitute” and a phone number on the back—that number of course being the Sunset Playhouse box office.


“A single word can mean something different to every person,” Doherty-Elst explains. “How we define women both in a word and what these societal expectations are. Add that to what their role is in Guido’s life, either what he wants or needs from them, or what she is actually giving him.”

Nine, presented by Theater RED, runs January 25 – 27 at the Sunset Playhouse Studio Theater. To order tickets visit or call the box office at 262-782-4430.

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Pier 106