Ludwig Live! At the Seven Hills Cabaret. Written and Directed by Nancy Holson.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
Katherine Pecevich as Mozart; photo: Gina Hyams
Charles Lindberg as Beethoven; photo: Gina Hyams
"Who needs Broadway...we’ve got Pittsfield!"
There is a funny thing called ‘humor’ which now and then rears its peculiar head, not ugly, just peculiar, and sets off ripples of uncontrollable laughter. People who may not even know what they’re laughing at fall into the soup or cocktail of delirium and only emerge now and then to breathe in enough air to expel in giggles or chortles or guffaws. This was the case for many people at the first performance of "Ludwig Live!" at the Seven Hills Cabaret in Lenox, MA on Monday night. It was a preview. It was the first time the cast had played to a packed house. It was probably the first time that some people walked out at intermission only to miss one of the funniest second acts in the region. Quick to judge, quick to lose out on some of the best bits of the season.
According to the author, this show will be even funnier when the cast gets all of the lines she wrote onto the stage in a single performance. Hopefully, by now, they’ve achieved that goal and subsequent audiences have had an even better time than I had. Frankly, I had a wonderful time, laughing, nearly crying at times from the pain of the body-shaking expulsions of laughter.
What’s this all about? It’s hard to explain, but here goes. Ludwig van Beethoven did not die. Instead he has survived all these years and is now doing a combination of stand-up comedy and sit-down musical satire in the Berkshires. His notorious short-temper (he was a short guy) has cost him a large cast of supporting players, including the aerialist and the synchronized swimmers, and he is left alone on stage with only his ever-faithful stage manager to take on the understudy chores.
Beethoven relates the incidents of his life (as we’ve known it) and his subsequent influence on popular music in a manner that Charles Dickens would approve: I am born. . .he tells us and the story grows in wonder from there. Did you know, for example, that Beethoven’s opera, "Fidelio" was not a hit in 1805 but won the 1814 Tony Award for best revival? If you find that even the slightest bit funny, just a smile’s worth of humorous, you’re likely to enjoy the rest of the show.
Charles Lindberg - no, not the flyer and Nazi-influenced politician - plays Ludwig. He also plays the piano and from memory does two hours of music including the "best hits" canon of Beethoven, John Philip Sousa, Johann Strauss, Joseph Haydn, and Barry Manilow. He does this all with a graceless charm that seems right for the character. He sings, he acts, he dances on his piano bench. He is the superstar of the rock-solid romantic school of music. He has a sibilance problem, but you can overcome that if you consider it an affectation, character driven. But it isn’t his acting you admire anyway, it is his pianistic skill and his ability to play and sing a mash-up of very different musical styles.
The Stage Manager is the incredible Katherine Pecevich. This woman can take a grey day and turn it into pure sunshine. She sings everything from Wagner to country music and even turns in a more than reasonable impression of Janis Joplin. As a character actress she plays Ludwig’s Yiddishe Momma, all of the loves of his life including his nephew Carl, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Papa Haydn. Her Napoleon is probably the finest since Charles Boyer played the role, maybe even since Brando. Her talents have never been put to more frenetic use and her ability to switch characters on a dime, or something smaller, is sure and fine and continually baffles and mystifies while amusing and amusing and amusing.
Robin Gerson Wong, the proprietor of the Seven Hills Inn, plays the role of the Innkeeper and does a surprise solo act at the top of Act Two. She’s probably worth the price of admission.
This isn’t the finest evening of theater I’ve ever seen, but it was funny enough to have me choke and gag with laughter. On a warm or wet or cold Berkshire night, I’d choose it over just another Beethoven Symphony down the road in that big park with the bigger parking lot. If I had another night, I’d see it again, just to find out what got missed on Preview One’s performance. It can’t be anything funnier than the show I saw.
Ludwig Live! plays at Seven Hills Inn Cabaret at 40 Plunkett Street, Lenox, MA through August 30. For information and tickets call 866-811-4111.