By: Paulanne Simmons
Ludwig van Beethoven may be one of Western music’s most influential composers and a key figure in the transition from the Classical to the Modern era, but in Nancy Holson’s Ludwig Live, he is a self-aggrandizing womanizer who is petty and jealous, especially when it comes to his rival, Mozart. And the laughs abound.
Holson, who also directs, has cast the show wisely. The versatile James Higgins is at the piano as Beethoven, who has created this show about himself. While the equally versatile Gillian Hassert plays all the other people in the composer’s life: Beethoven’s adoring mother; Mozart; Beethoven’s girlfriends, Guilietta, Josephine and Antonie (Beethoven plays “Fur Elise” for all of them); Hayden; Napoleon; and Beethoven’s nephew, Karl.
Hassert, who was initially the stage manager of Beethoven’s show, must step in for all these roles because the originally cast actors have all quit. She explains: “A couple of them were heading into emergency trauma therapy, one was becoming a Buddhist monk. Oh. And the aerialist decided to take a safer and less stressful job and joined the cast of Spider Man, the Musical. “
Holson’s parodies are set to an astonishing variety of music, from classical to modern, a Strauss Waltz to a Cole Porter tune. Her lyrics are catchy and filled with rhymes that would make a rapper turn green with envy: “Anyone who calls it quits’ll/Lose the moment to a schnitzel” and “He has got to know so/I’m no virtuoso.”
There are also numerous (and changing) references to current events. Beethoven tells Mozart that his wig is “Dolly Parton meets Donald Trump.”
The last part of the show is a whirlwind trip through history showing Beethoven’s influence on subsequent generations of musicians from Gilbert and Sullivan’s “I Am the Very Model” to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton.
This musical journey and Ludwig Live end with Beethoven singing “I Wrote the Songs.” But it is here that the show makes its only false step, bringing Higgins and Hassert back for an overly long encore with all the characters who have already had their say.
It’s quite possible that by this time the audience would prefer hearing Higgins play one of the compositions that made Beethoven worthy of such an excellent parody on his life in the first place.
For upcoming performances, check out www.ludwiglive.com.