"33 Variations"

Produced by: TheatreWorks
By: Moisés Kaufman
Featuring: Rosina Reynolds, Howard Swain, Chad Deverman, Jennifer LeBlanc, Jackson Davis, Marie Shell and Michael Gene Sullivan
When: October 3-28, 2012
Where: Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro Street, Mountain View, California
Tickets: $23-$73 (savings available for students, educators, and seniors); call 650-463-1960 or visit
Read an interview with Rosina Reynolds, who plays Dr. Katherine Brandt in "33 Variations."

Read John Orr's review of "33 Variations."

33 Variations
Mark Kitaoka / TheatreWorks
William Liberatore at the piano and Howard Swain as Beethoven in "33 Variations" as produced by TheatreWorks at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, October 3-28, 2012.
Wanting to play the music
William Liberatore talks about Beethoven
and his role in '33 Variations' at TheatreWorks
October 6, 2012

There are probably many reasons to want to go see "33 Variations," which opens on October 6, 2012, at TheatreWorks in Mountain View. But my favorite reasons are these:

-- It's about, in part, Beethoven

-- It has Howard Swain playing Beethoven

-- It has William Liberatore on stage, playing the music of Beethoven.


The play, by Moisés Kaufman, who helped write "The Laramie Project," and who wrote "Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde," debuted on Broadway in 2009, with Jane Fonda in the other key role, that of modern musicologist Katherine Brandt (played at TheatreWorks by Rosina Reynolds).

"33 Variations" travels in time from when Beethoven was composing the music, to modern times, when Brandt is trying to figure out how and why Beethoven did it. Beethoven and Brandt are both facing deadlines of physical problems and life itself.

Onstage throughout, while Beethoven composes and Brandt decomposes, is Liberatore, actually playing the music on piano.

Regarding the music, we quote Wikipedia: "The '33 Variations on a waltz by Anton Diabelli,' Op. 120, commonly known as the 'Diabelli Variations, 'is a set of variations for the piano written between 1819 and 1823 by Ludwig van Beethoven on a waltz composed by Anton Diabelli." Read the full Wikipedia entry yourself, if you want, here.

Liberatore, in a phone conversation on Friday, said he's having a blast doing the play.

"The '33 Variations,' I'd never studied them, never played them before. Some are beautiful. They're not all beautiful. Some are really interesting. But it's amazing how they fit in the play, amazing that the main character (Beehoven) could create so many pieces. "It's really neat! They go all over the place! You wouldn't believe all the different moods and songs he created from this one, 50-second piece (the original by Diabelli)."

And, Liberatore added, with a laugh, "Some of it is really, really hard to play.

"They are astonishing. Easily some of the most amazing pieces written in variations form ever."

Liberatore, a friendly fellow who laughs a lot, is a pretty amazing guy himself. He works all the time. He's been the choral director at Gunn High School in Palo Alto for 23 years, where he also teaches music theory. He is the resident musical director at TheatreWorks, where he's been a key part of that company's unparalleled success with musicals and plays with music. And, "because I don't like to get bored," he has also been musical director for many performances with Symphony Silicon Valley in San Jose, and has done dozens of other things, largely because, as he put it, he's a guy who doesn't say no, much, when asked to do things.

He's digging what he's doing with "33 Variations."

"It's brilliantly written," Liberatore said of the Kaufman play, "and the music is incorporated in the story really well. A music expert, William Kinderman, worked with the playwright to make the whole play musically accurate. Which is great."

(Kinderman wrote "Beethoven's Diabelli Variations," which among other things traces the development of the music through Beethoven sketchbooks. Gravy for this play.)

And, Liberatore says, "Howard Swain is astonishing.

"Toward the end of the play, Beethoven decides to try to conquer the fugue. He imagines this huge fugue. Howard has this great monologue. He's something else, just a force, in the clever ways Beethoven imagines it, as I play it."

Liberatore notes, though, that "It's not like the other characters see me."

The play, the dialogue and action, is delivered by the actors.

Liberatore is just the piano player.

"At first I was like, 'Oh.' And, then, 'It's cool.'"

Hahahaha! That's musician speak for accepting the lot of the background, even when what the musician plays is absolutely the thumping heart of the story.

"When you're young, you want to be the center of attention," says Liberatore, the brilliant and experienced musician. "When you get older, you just want to play music."

William Liberatore
John Orr / Triviana
William Liberatore, music director of TheatreWorks, at rehearsal for "A Civil War Christmas" at the TheatreWorks rehearsal facility in Menlo Park, California, on November 24, 2009.


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