The Times photo by Betsy Reason
Westfield Playhouse presents “33 Variations,” opening tonight, and featuring Beethoven museum curator Dr. Gertrude Ladenburger (Susan Hill, from left), Beethoven scholar Dr. Katherine Brandt (Monica Reinking), male nurse Mike (Kelly Keller), Clara (Katelin Reeves), Anton Diabelli (Steve Jerk), Anton Schindler (Dave Hoffman), Beethoven (Doug Stanton) with pianist Kyle Thompson.
The Times photo by Betsy Reason Westfield Playhouse presents “33 Variations,” opening tonight, and featuring Beethoven museum curator Dr. Gertrude Ladenburger (Susan Hill, from left), Beethoven scholar Dr. Katherine Brandt (Monica Reinking), male nurse Mike (Kelly Keller), Clara (Katelin Reeves), Anton Diabelli (Steve Jerk), Anton Schindler (Dave Hoffman), Beethoven (Doug Stanton) with pianist Kyle Thompson.
It’s a play about passion, parenthood and moments that change a life.
A play that shifts back and forth in time, from present day, back 200 years.
A play with live music but not a musical.
Main Street Productions in Westfield presents “33 Variations,” opening tonight and continuing weekends through Feb. 18 at Westfield Playhouse.
“Unique to the production is a pianist on stage, playing the Variations throughout,” said Jan Jamison, the show’s director.
But even more unique is the pianist himself, Noblesville’s Kyle Thomas who plays Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations.
Like Beethoven, who was deaf the last three years of his life, Thomas is deaf.
Jamison calls Thomas a “phenomenal player” and worth coming to the show to listen to him play.”
“It is amazing that he can play when he basically cannot hear the music.”
Thomas has special hearing aids which help, “but he has to, in his words, ‘become intimate with the music, studying many hours and imagining how the music must sound,” she said.
Jamison saw this play in Fort Wayne several years ago and was intrigued by it. “I especially love the piano on stage playing the music throughout the play,” she said.
The play, written in 2007 by Moisés Kaufman, debuted in 2009 on Broadway starring Jane Fonda.
The show is about a sharp-witted, terminally-ill musicologist, Dr. Katherine Brandt, who was recently diagnosed with ALS, a common motor-neuron disease also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. “She is obsessed with discovering why (Ludwig van) Beethoven wrote 33 Variations on a rather mediocre waltz theme written by Anton Diabelli,” said Jamison, who has directed more than 50 shows in community theater and is on the Westfield Playhouse board of directors.
Studies of the fatally-ill Beethoven scholar take Dr. Brandt to Bonn, Germany, to the Beethoven House museum which houses all of Beethoven’s sketches and sheet music.
The story correlates her genius with Beethoven’s and shifts back and forth from present day New York to 19th-century Austria.
Although they’re separated by 200 years, a mother is coming to terms with her daughter and a composer is coming to terms with his genius, the director said. “As the play develops, we find the sacrifices these two have made for their passions.”
Westfield Playhouse is partnering during “33 Variations” with the Indiana chapter of ALS, which will receive $2 donation from every ticket sold.
“Anyone with a connection to ALS will want to see how the actress (Monica Reinking) develops the character and the progression of symptoms,” Jamison said. “Any music lover will be intrigued by this depiction of Beethoven (Doug Stanton) and will be delighted by Kyle Thomas playing the Variations on stage.”
Jamison said, “Beethoven wrote the 33 Variations over more than a three-year period because he kept ‘finding’ in Anton Diabelli's waltz theme, more to create. The variations are played throughout the play as they are mentioned. There is also a short recording from parts of Beethoven's Mass.”
Besides Playhouse veterans Reinking and Stanton, the remaining thespians are all new to the Playhouse.
The play revolves around the present-day scholar, her relationship with her daughter, Clara (Katelin Reeves) and the daughter’s developing romance with her male nurse Mike (Kelly Keller), and museum curator Dr. Gertrude Ladenburger (Susan Hill), and moving back in time, with period costumes, to Beethoven, assistant Anton Schindler (Dave Hoffman) and Anton Diabelli (Steve Jerk), (1819-1824).
The play’s set -- painted by Noblesville’s Mike Mellot to look like music parchment paper -- is minimal, aside from the piano, some chairs and side table. Jamison, who has a college degree in fashion merchandising and retired from the medical field, said, “I wanted the focus to be on the characters and the dialogue and the music without many distractions. There are projections, as well, which elaborate on the set,” she said.
Jamison is pleased with the show and ready for opening night. She said, “The show could not come together without a huge, talented and devoted team.”
The play is PG-13; some language may not be suitable for children.
Read more about pianist Kyle Thomas in Betsy Reason’s column in an upcoming edition of The Times.
-Contact Betsy Reason at betsy@thetimes24-7.com.