By Harry Haun
10 Mar 2009
|Photo by Aubrey Reuben|
The maestro resisted the red flag of competition at first, scoffing that the waltz was "a cobbler's patch." Then the temptation to grandstand set in, and the rest if not precisely history is the musical mystery tour that began March 9 at the Eugene O'Neill. Beethoven's 33, like his Ninth, came at the tail end of his life, and WHY he would devote so much of it to such inconsequence is the question before the house.
Two second-generation stars from the silver screen Hank's daughter and Hanks' son Jane Fonda, 71, and Colin Hanks, 31 have been recruited to unravel this riddle which has been nagging at classical-music buffs lo these 186 years since Beethoven was able to pry himself loose for his obsession and finish the darn thing.
It is Fonda's first Broadway outing in 46 years and Hanks' first ever although you'd not suspect it from the cool, clear-eyed poise they bring effortlessly to their parts.
She plays a smart, spiky musicologist on a mission to find out what the composer was thinking to waste his precious time on so ordinary a waltz, and she has a life-deadline as real as Beethoven's was (sans the deafness): she has started showing signs of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) "Lou Gehrig's disease," to the layman a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells.
Contemporary times dip and swoop with Beethoven's times throughout, allowing the maestro (Zach Grenier) equal airtime to throw his genius around with his pretentious personal-handler (Erik Steele) and his sponsor-publisher, Diabelli (Don Amendolia, provoking warm thoughts of the late Akim Tamiroff). Kaufman, who also directed, stages these swift switches in centuries like a smooth, sweeping waltz.
Throughout the play, variations are introduced into the dramatic mix by a pianist on the sidelines (Diane Walsh), and, in one especially remarkable sequence, she plays a variation while Grenier as Beethoven talks his way through its rocky creation.
A tumultuous ovation welcomed Fonda back to theatre at the top of the evening and swelled again, all hands standing, at the curtain call. Homecomings don't come any better, and the actress appeared to be welling up a bit over the hearty response.
An hour later, at the after-party held at the darkly elegant and cavernous new nightspot on Lower Ninth Avenue called Buddakan, she was back in control mode.
Looking quite smashing in chaotic glare of TV cameras and paparazzi pop, she had a fast "No" to the opening-night nerves question and, indeed, evidenced none as she plowed through the evening as if she hadn't spent almost a half-century off-stage.
"I never dreamed that I would becoming back to Broadway. I received this play, and what it said what it's about is something I was dealing with in a book I'm writing about aging. It's a very interesting play. The membranes that separate life and death and past and present are foreign to this play. I didn't realize it when I first read it."
Fonda 'fessed up to a certain amount of personal pride at making it to the top of the Broadway mountain after all these years and, when a reporter suggested that her dad Henry, a lifelong supporter and practitioner of theatre was probably proud too, she smiled wistfully. "His widow was there tonight, and we talked about that." Continued...