When people hear the words “Ludwig Live!” (the Kimmel Center’s new musical), most wouldn’t believe this zany, almost comical title actually unlocks one of Philadelphia’s best, most unique and fantastic displays of theater in this city.
With nothing more than a small intimate setting, a lighted stage, a grand piano, a wardrobe and two incredible actors, “Ludwig Live!” came to life. The play starts out with Ludwig Von Beethoven, played by Charles Lindberg, sauntering onto the scene. This Beethoven, unlike the Victorian version, has a sarcastic flair that the audience would be crazy not to fall in love with. Speaking through the sounds of his music, Beethoven introduces us to the show and soon to his fellow actor, Cathy, played by Katherine Pecevich. Cathy, the stage manager and the swing of the show, comes off as a meek sideline character whom no one truly wants to remember. That is, until the conflict of the show is brought into to play and the night begins to unravel, starting off with a bang none of us could have imagined.
Standing small as a stage manager, Cathy is faced with a demand from her boastful partner (Beethoven). She informs him that the cast for the show has actually gone AWOL and the show cannot go on. That is until Beethoven, with his sly and sarcastic drunken ways, comes up with a plan. He decides that instead of casting 20 actors to portray the people in his life, he would make one person play them all. Since Cathy is the only one left, she becomes the woman for the job, and the one we all wanted off the stage most soon becomes the crowning star of the entire night.
Within the next 10 minutes we find out Cathy’s job is a lot harder than we all thought. She not only has to play the characters in Beethoven’s show, but she has to represent every person (man or woman) who influenced his life in some way. We find out Cathy has to play a total of eight characters. These include his insane stereotypical mother; his lost love, Julieta Decharti; his well-overage tactless advisor, Joseph Haydn; his Sarah Palin doppelganger, Josephine; his surfer dude tattoo-pasted nephew, Carl; his final love, Antony; and, my favorite, Napoleon Bonaparte, his confidant (the only character on stage that is made out of a puppet with short legs). Last but not least Cathy also portrays his archenemy, the one and only Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Through insane costume changes, incredible accent alterations and Beethoven’s constant storytelling, this once-sweet musical has become a complete chaotic comedy that left me and every other person in stitches.
After the chaos “seems” to settle, things only become more out of control. In every interaction Beethoven has with a character, he sings a duet in a series of hilariously clever and original songs. Titles include “Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better” (a duel of intelligence between Mozart and Beethoven), “The Omelet Monologues” by Napoleon, discussing his “short” complex and role as a “brave” member of society, and a short round of joke telling from the elderly Haydn (“How do you get a musician off your porch? Just pay them for the pizza!”). Last but not least, they sing “Ode to Depression,” where Beethoven’s hearing loss has caused him to go into emotional turmoil until Cathy hands him a hearing aid and changes the course of his entire life.
After this aspect of the show finely subsided, we expected a smooth transitional ending and a much-deserved last song for the couple. However, what happened next did not even come close to what was expected. Before the audience even knew what was happening, Cathy, the poor stage manager, is then directed by Beethoven to not act out his life, but to instead act, sing and dance the last 100 years of music history within 10 minutes. Sounds impossible, right? Maybe to any normal director it would be. Cathy not only puts on 27 different hats and accents for each category of music, but she also sings a song and performs a dance to match it. Her performance ranges from operatic Wagner to African spirituals, classic vaudeville, modern-day doo-wop and rat pack, the roaring sounds of the 70s (Beatle wig and all), today’s country and western sound, and an amazing piccolo solo for the Sousa march. She also represents nine different countries and their music, from Irish step dancing to an incredibly accurate and impressive Broadway tap dance.
At the end of the night, no one could stop cheering for the incredible show that had just unraveled. To sum it all up, this show is a hit. Maybe it didn’t have flashy sounds or intricate backdrops, but it will truly be a joy for anyone who goes to see it. I can’t imagine how these roles would ever be recast. Such amazing talent is one in a million, and I don’t think anyone other than these two incredible actors could keep this show as amazing as it already is. The realization is that with talent like this, anything can come to life, and “Ludwig Live!” is proof that when two amazing minds come together with enough talent to fill the room, they become unstoppable.