By David Patrick Stearns
INQUIRER MUSIC CRITIC
The first thing anybody needs to know about Ludwig Live! is that the cabaret show, playing at the Kimmel Center’s Innovation Studio, has little to do with Beethoven or even having laughs at his expense. Using tired devices such as the clash of high and low art, Ludwig Live!, which opened Friday, explores how intentionally ramshackle showbiz somehow holds the stage.
The concept is that cranky old Beethoven — played by Charles Lindberg, in the cheapest wig imaginable — is somehow back from the dead and taking his story on the road with a troupe of actors. But all have quit. The one survivor is his mousy, amiable stage manager, played by Katherine Pecevich, who is faced with playing all the characters in his life story as well as the legions of modern celebrities he credits himself with influencing, from Elvis Presley to Sarah Palin.
So the humor lies mostly in Pecevich’s frantic, jerry-rigged efforts to do the impossible with more bad wigs, funny glasses, a fake nose, and a few warmed-over Jerry Stiller jokes.
The performers are more capable than the show deserves. Lindberg sings and plays piano (including bits of Beethoven sonatas) tirelessly. But why Beethoven? Aren’t there better pretenses? Beethoven’s hapless assistant exclaims, “If I wanted to work for a bipolar egomaniac, I’d work for Charlie Sheen!” Maybe that’s the sequel!
As it stands, the best moments in Ludwig Live! could be in a show about anybody, although the idea of Beethoven and Mozart (played by Pecevich) singing “Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)” may have more truth to it than the show’s creators thought. There is novelty in having Beethoven pieces fitted with fast-paced intentionally ill-fitting lyrics. But in an attempt to shoehorn his story into conventional theatrical devices, author/director Nancy Holson gives it a corny emotional arc by having Beethoven finally learn to play from his heart (one problem the real Beethoven never had). The rest is so much second-hand humor that Lindberg and Pecevich are faced with salvaging something so flimsy it barely exists. And that’s not funny.
Contact music critic David Patrick Stearns at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Through Jan. 29 at Innovation Studio, Kimmel Center, 260 S. Broad St. Tickets: $35-$47. Information: 893-1999 (option 2), www.kimmelcenter.org