News > Review: 33 Variations at Threshold Rep – Not at All Mediocre

The time:  1819, 1823, and the present.

The places:  New York (USA), Bonn (Germany), and Vienna (Austria).

In the early 1800s, Anton Diabelli wrote a waltz. As I type this, I’m listening to the 33 different variations Ludwig Von Beethoven did from this one initial piece of Diabelli’s.  Almost everyone (especially those of us with artistic tendencies) has experienced what it’s like to become completely inspired and enamored by something.  After hearing Diabelli’s waltz, this is exactly what happened to Beethoven. He seemed to fall completely head over heals for a waltz that everyone else saw as mediocre.

Diabelli had originally asked all of the famous European composers of the early 1800s to compose a variation of the waltz he had created. These variations were to be published together in one book. As Beethoven became completely obsessed with the project, he was simply unable to write just one variation.  In the end, and over several years of holding up the production of the book and to the surprise of many, he composed 33 of them.
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Threshold Repertory's 33 Variations

Over a century later, music expert Dr. Katherine Brandt is obsessed with understanding Beethoven’s obsession with this waltz that had been labeled as mediocre. Brandt’s character is accomplished and scholarly and her passion for and knowledge of music theory is exceptional. She is far from mediocre. However, her daughter is a girl who doesn’t have the same focus and drive that Brandt has. She changes careers every few years and doesn’t seem to have a specific passion. Brandt fears very much that her daughter is mediocre and their relationship is quite strained. This becomes more pronounced as Brandt’s illness gets worse and she loses motor skills. She has Lou Gehrig’s Disease and there is no cure.
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To me, the Brandt learns to love and appreciate her daughter in much the same way that Beethoven sees the immense beauty in something that everyone else sees as commonplace. For him, each simple note of Diabelli’s can be taken and expanded upon as he sees the profound beauty that lies within the simplicity. It seems that Brandt finally sees this same underlying beauty in her daughter before she passes. Brandt even speaks to Beethoven in a dreamlike state before she dies. He comments on how “brave” her daughter Clara is because of her courage to try many different things.

Cast of 33 Variations at Threshold Repertory

Threshold Repertory’s production of the play 33 Variations really moved me. It was a powerful piece with beautiful live piano accompaniment pianist Dr. Ricky Duckett.  Lynda Harvey’s performance as Dr. Brandt was exceptional, especially towards the end when her health was failing. Carri Schwab brought some comic relief with her character – the very German Dr. Gertrude Ladenburger – who continually tried to cover up her natural caring sweetness with her stoic German attitude.  Rob Maniscalco did a fine job of being the eccentric Beethoven, and Peter Galle also did a commendable job of his role as Clara’s lover and Dr. Brandt’s nurse.
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I saw the dress rehearsal of this performance and it honestly had me hooked. I quickly became emotionally involved along with the characters and wanted good things to happen for them.  I almost cried. Almost.  I can only imagine how good the real performances will be in the coming weeks.  If you love music, 33 Variations is definitely a show worth seeing. Get tickets on the Theatre Charleston site.

words: Olivia Pool

Pianist Dr. Ricky Duckett

Posted on May 2, 2013 by admin.

Categories: Performing Arts, Review

Tags: 33 Variations, Beethoven, Carri Schwab, Charleston, Diabelli, Lynda Harvey, Pamela Galle, Performing Arts, Peter Galle, Rob Maniscalco, Threshold Rep, Threshold Repertory Theatre, Waltz

Comments (1)

  1. Pingback by Reviews Are In for 33 Variations – Maniscalco Gallery on March 9, 2016 at 4:32 pm

    […] a lovely, thoughtful review of the show, this by wonderful art spirit that is Olivia Pool of ART MAG.  We are so lucky here in Charleston, […]

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