Emmy and Oscar winner Fonda, last seen on Broadway in a 1963 production of Strange Interlude, plays a musicologist investigating the genius of composer Ludwig van Beethoven. She heads a cast of eight, including Samantha Mathis ("Grey's Anatomy"), Colin Hanks ("Mad Men"), Zach Grenier as Beethoven, Don Amendolia as Anton Diabelli, Susan Kellermann, Erik Steele and pianist Diane Walsh.
The limited engagement plays to May 24 at the O'Neill, 230 West 49th Street.
33 Variations is a new American play with music from the mind of Kaufman, whose previous acclaimed work includes Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde and The Laramie Project.
33 Variations concerns Katherine Brandt (Jane Fonda), trying to solve a centuries-old mystery about the world's greatest composer — Beethoven. Her obsession takes her from present-day New York to 19th-century Austria. "As the music that consumes Katherine comes to life on stage, she races against time to find common ground with her daughter [Mathis] and to embrace the legacy of her own life," according to production notes.
What did it take to get Fonda, 71, to return to the stage? She told Playbill.com's Robert Simonson, "The play. I'd like to say that [Moisés Kaufman] knew from the beginning that if it was ever going to get to Broadway that I would be the one he'd want in the role. I've gotten other plays over the years. I read this play, and I happened to be writing about Beethoven at the time — a book about aging. There's this chapter I'm writing about how you can look at Beethoven, you can look at Matisse, you can look at Cezanne, you can look at so many great artists who did their best, most profound work later in life when they were physically challenged. Literally, I'm writing this chapter, and this play arrives. I read it. It's not an easy play to read. I have never read a play like this, structurally, stylistically. It's very hard to read it and take off the page exactly what it was. But I knew that there was something about this that was really different, that was calling to me. "I happened to be in Phoenix making a speech, and I was talking about it, and a woman came up to me and said, 'I saw it in La Jolla. It knocked me off my feet.' So I said, 'OK, I want to meet Moisés' and then Moisés and I had dinner and we really hit it off, and I said, 'I'm going to take this leap of faith.'"
Fonda said, "It's a total ensemble piece. I don't like the fact that people sort of thought it was a one-woman show. It's a real ensemble piece."
The creative team includes Derek McLane (sets), Janice Pytel (costumes), David C. Woolard (additional costumes), David Lander (lights), André Pluess (sound), Jeff Sugg (projection design), Charles LaPointe (hair/wig design) and Daniel Pelzig (choreography). The dramaturg is Mark Bly.
This marks Kaufman's debut as a Broadway playwright. He directed the acclaimed Broadway production of I Am My Own Wife, earning a 2004 Tony nomination for Best Direction. He's the artistic director of Tectonic Theater Project, the award-winning non-profit theatre company.
The Tectonic Theater Project's production is being produced on Broadway by David Binder, Ruth Hendel, Barbara Whitman, Goldberg/Mills, Latitude Link, Arielle Tepper Madover, Bill Resnick, Eric Schnall, Jayne Baron Sherman and Willis/True Love Productions.
Internationally known Oscar and Emmy Award winner Fonda ("Klute," "Coming Home," "The Dollmaker," "The China Syndrome," "On Golden Pond" and many more) made her Broadway debut in the 1960 play There Was a Little Girl, for which she earned a Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actress.
Mathis returns to Broadway following her performance of Hester Falk in Arthur Miller's The Man Who Had All the Luck opposite Chris O'Donnell. She plays Melinda on TV's "Grey's Anatomy." Hanks is making his Broadway debut following a recurring role on AMC's "Mad Men" (as Father John Gill). His movie credits include "W.," "The House Bunny" and "King Kong."
Grenier portrayed the role of Beethoven in 33 Variations at La Jolla Playhouse and was most recently on Broadway in A Man for All Seasons starring Frank Langella.
Tickets for 33 Variations are available by visiting Telecharge.com, calling (212) 239-6200 and at the box office of the Eugene O'Neill Theatre.
33 Variations plays Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 8 PM with a Wednesday and Saturday matinee at 2 PM and Sunday matinee at 3 PM. (There will not be a performance March 10.) The "Tuesdays at 7 PM" schedule begins on March 17.
33 Variations premiered on Aug. 30, 2007, at Arena Stage, Washington, DC. A production of 33 Variations was produced in 2008 by The La Jolla Playhouse, La Jolla, CA. The play was developed with assistance from The Sundance Institute Theatre Program, The Orchard Project Theatre Residency Program, The Davis Performing Arts Center and Theater and Performance Studies at Georgetown University, and the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts and the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.