Monday, May 25, 2015

Review: "Ludwig Live!"

"Ludwig Live!" is pretty much dead on arrival, says critic David Patrick Stearns.

Review: "Ludwig Live!"

By David Patrick Stearns

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

Through Jan. 29 at Innovation Studio, Kimmel Center, 260 S. Broad St. Tickets: $35-$47. Information: 893-1999 (option 2),

About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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