Broadway’s Phantom Directs 33 VARIATIONS!
Actors Co-op is pleased to have Thomas James O’Leary direct the next production in its 25th Anniversary Season, 33 Variations by Moisés Kaufman, opening February 10, 2017. Thomas is perhaps best known for his three-year run as the Phantom in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA on Broadway (over 1,000 performances). He has also appeared in MISS SAIGON (Broadway), LES MISÉRABLES (First National), CHESS (First National) to name a few. Thomas recently directed NEXT TO NORMAL at Pico Playhouse, as well as FLIM FLAM: HOUDINI AND THE HEREAFTER at the Malibu Playhouse, DUSTY DE LOS SANTOS and THE DEBUT OF GEORGIA at the Skylight Theatre and the Blank Theatre, RESERVE CHAMPION and A HORSE WITH A VIEW at the Hollywood Fringe Festival, and THE ESCAPE ARTIST’S CHILDREN at the Celebration Theatre. Thomas is also on the faculty of AMDA College and Conservatory of the Performing Arts.
Actors Co-op recently chatted with Thomas about 33 Variations . . .
How would you describe the play?
“33 Variations is a play about obsession, transformation, and transfiguration. Two brilliant, passionate, and somewhat difficult people (I like to think of them as soul mates separated by 200 years) are searching for truth and creativity. Both the fictional Dr. Katherine Brandt of today and the biographical Ludwig Van Beethoven of 1819 will give up at nothing in order to reach their goals, as possibly foolish as those goals might seem. Why did Beethoven continue writing so many variations on Diabelli’s simple little waltz over a three-year period, while he was suffering from various illnesses, and tackling much bigger projects (Missa Solemnis and the Ninth Symphony)? And why does Dr. Brandt go to such life-threatening lengths to solve that mystery? When does curiosity turn into obsession, and why? Two powerful, controlling individuals are in a race against time as their worlds are falling apart around them. This powerful play envelops us into the creative process through many theatrical variations using many design elements and live music.”
What do you want people to experience in watching this play?
“There is an immediacy to the storytelling Moisés Kaufman put into this play – we are sometimes at Dr. Brandt’s lectures, and we are sometimes experiencing Beethoven composing his music. I’d like people to experience a real “here and now” in this play – even though some of the story takes place far away and long ago. Interwoven into the story we see and hear a pianist playing the variations at a baby grand piano on stage, and we see the projections of the original sketches of Beethoven’s music acquired from the Beethoven-Haus in Bonn, Germany. I’m hoping the audience will have a full sensory experience as the dual narratives unfold in an almost mystical way.”
What makes this play work so well?
“I loved this play when I saw it at the Ahmanson during its LA premiere in 2011. Much of my love for this piece comes from the interplay of all of the design elements (set, projections, lighting, sound, costume, and props) along with nuanced acting and the live music. On many levels, I think that the story may work even better in an intimate theatre. And this production is blessed to have a phenomenal cast! The live music and the images of Beethoven’s original sketches give the show a weightier biographical reality and a visceral subliminal power. This is the type of theatre that really excites me: where the blending of all of the visual and aural elements can offer a transcendent experience.”
What are some of the challenges in directing this play?
“I see the challenges of this play as great opportunities. It’s fun to work with each set of characters, two centuries and two continents apart in such a way that the action unfolds fluidly and often simultaneously. We’re telling overlapping but related stories by moving seamlessly from one time and place to another, sometimes elegantly and sometimes in fits and starts – just as Beethoven wrote his variations. I think time-travel works so well in theatre – sometimes better than in film, because it’s immediate. And working with Nick Acciani on the set and projection design has been a blast. I knew that we needed a set that could work for both periods and that would offer us as many “variations” as possible – and Nick has created true magic! The fun part for me is to orchestrate and choreograph the interplay of all of these elements!”
Do you have a favorite scene in the play?
“There are many! But one of my favorites is when we first enter the archives at the Beethoven-Haus in Bonn, Germany, and we actually see and hear the original sketches for the first time. Through the projection and musical design, the audience experiences what the characters experience – and we are transported back 200 years into Beethoven’s creative process. Another powerful scene is when Dr. Katherine Brandt and Beethoven finally see each other – it’s mystical, funny, spiritual and very moving.”
What makes this play an important story to tell?
“I think the play poses several profound questions such as: When are we following a divine path, and when are we forcing a solution? And is it always the right thing to go to any lengths in order to achieve our goals? In the play, two brilliant but stubborn individuals who sometimes hurt others are finally forced to confront their mortality. And these are not the type of people who want to look at that. I think the play brings these questions home in a powerful, moving, and transcendent way.”
33 Variations opens February 10, 2017 at Actors Co-op. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2:30 PM with two special Saturday matinees set for February 18 and March 18 at 2:30 PM. For tickets, CLICK HERE.