Published March 10, 2009
Jane Fonda gives a Tony award winning performance in “33 Variations,” which opened on Broadway last night to standing ovations.
But you knew she would: this is Jane Fonda, winner of two Academy Awards, the actress who was, essentially, Meryl Streep before there was Meryl Streep. Their career paths even intersected, because just as Fonda was winding down in 1982 with Sidney Lumet’s underrated “The Morning After,” Streep was coming on strong in “Sophie’s Choice” — a film directed by a Fonda regular, Alan Pakula.
Anyway: last night Fonda was in the zone, as they say, as “33 Variations” swooped through the Eugene O’Neill Theater. She’s the star, but there is a very strong cast with her including Samantha Mathis, Colin Hanks, Zach Grenier, Don Amendolia, Susan Kellermann, Erik Steele and the amazing Diane Walsh who plays a massive amount of Beethoven on a grand piano just off stage through Moises Kaufman’s wonderful play.
Among those in the star studded audience: Geoffrey Rush, Dolly Parton, Rosie O’Donnell and Kelli Carpenter, Marcia Gay Harden, Valerie Harper, David Hyde Pierce, Renee Zellweger, Rose MacGowan — recovering from wrist and shoulder surgery, and Richard Kind, plus Maria Cooper Janis (the elegant daughter of legend Gary Cooper) and her famed musician husband Byron Janis, writer Patricia Bosworth, as well as Jane’s family members: son Troy and daughter in law Simone, and step mother extraordinaire Shirlee Fonda. Shirlee — the widow of Henry Fonda -- quipped, “You probably recognize me because I’m one of the few in Hollywood who never got a facelift!”
Fonda is from a different generation than Mathis and Hanks, but they have this in common: all had famous acting parents. Fonda and Hanks’ progenitors you know. Samantha Mathis’s mother, Bibi Besch, was a terrific television and theater actress, a double Emmy nominee who was well known to “Star Trek” fans from the movie “The Wrath of Khan.” She died of cancer in 1996 at age 56.
Mathis told me last night that since she’s been in the play she’s had dreams about her mother, even some where Besch and Fonda meet. It’s not hard to believe. In the play, Mathis is taking care of Fonda, who plays her dying mother. If that’s not enough to keep an actor distracted, Mathis — who just did three episodes of “Grey’s Anatomy” — has to get over being on stage with Jane Fonda. “There are times when I’m on stage thinking, I’m on Broadway with Jane Fonda!”
So what is “33 Variations” about? Fonda’s character, an academic named Katherine Brandt, goes to the Beethoven archives in Bonn, Germany to discover why the great composer, sick and at the end of his life, wrote thirty three variations on a short, undistinguished piece by a local music publisher. It’s a funny, poignant play, full of sharp observations and honest moments that draw you in as Katherine’s and Beethoven’s lives become juxtaposed. Weighing down Katherine’s investigation is the revelation that she suffers from ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Kaufman, writing and directing, makes “33 Variations” a very modern piece of theater, a leap forward out of the standard Broadway drama. Little moments — characters speaking in unison, singing or dancing — make this more than just a different take on “Amadeus.” And Fonda shows what a star actress is really like on stage. While everyone is very good, you really miss her character when she’s not in a scene. Fonda is every bit as mesmerizing and disarming as she was three decades ago in movies like “Klute,” “Coming Home,” and “Julia.”
At the after party at Buddokan (a strange choice for a Broadway opening), Fonda glistened as old friends and fans poured by her table for congratulations. What’s she going to do 46 years after her last Broadway appearance?
“I’d like to get drunk!” she laughed, but that probably wouldn’t happen. There’s another show tonight at 8, and two tomorrow. And so on.
P.S. And where was Tom Hanks, proud papa of Colin? I’m told he and Rita Wilson caught the play last week. They didn’t want to distract from his eldest son’s big night. They appear on screen together anyway in a new movie.
How much publicity did U2 do last week to promote their new album, No Line on the Horizon?
Well, they played on David Letterman five nights in a row and did a concert on “Good Morning America.” They were everywhere. Mayor Bloomberg, who never misses a celebrity dedication, renamed West 53rd St. “U2 Way.”
All that promotion and here’s the result: “No Line” probably sold 300,000 copies last week. That’s it. Not a million or half a million.
U2 is not alone. Bruce Springsteen’s total Super Bowl efforts produced about that number in CD sales as well. He sold 200,000 before the game and 100,000 after it.
Are there just 300,000 fans left in the United States willing to buy a new CD? It would seem so. And that’s not good news considering the effort and money that went into marketing those CDs.
None of that fazed Bono on Sunday. He was spotted having a nice brunch in La Golue, the famed Madison Avenue faux French bistro. Bono was with wife Alli and his daughter. Patrons left him alone, but the buzz level in the restaurant was very high. Keeping calm, Conde Nast publisher Si Newhouse had his meal outside at an umbrella table.
David Fishof’s Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp keeps fishing and fishing for bigger names. Now they’ve done it: Steven Tyler has agreed to be part of the next camp from April 29th to May 4th in Hollywood. This should be interesting because already on the bill is the amazing Todd Rundgren. Steven and Todd are or have been at different times the father of actress Liv Tyler (it’s a long story). Luckily, they’re friends. Also on the bill this time are Mark Hudson, Duff McKagan (Guns N’ Roses, Velvet Revolver), Todd Rundgren, Steve Lukather (Toto), Bruce Kulick (KISS), Alan White (Yes), and Elliot Easton (The Cars). By the way, celebs who are amateur musicians are signing up for this thing now, too…
…John Hamburg wrote the “Meet the Parents” and “Meet the Fockers” movies. Now he’s got “I Love You, Man” heading to a March 20th opening. First he’s taking the comedy to the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas for a big premiere. Last night his mom, Joan Hamburg, New York’s beloved radio personality, and dad, Skip, threw him a private screening here. Among the guests: cousin director Doug Liman and family pals Jill Rappaport and Rosanna Scotto…
…Meantime, South by Southwest (SXSW) starts on Thursday with a new head programmer, Janet Pierson. She’s got a lot of cool films including the much praised Kathryn Bigelow feature “The Hurt Locker” with Anthony Mackie and Jeremy Renner; the Carla Gugino-Josh Brolin dark comedy “Women in Trouble,” Zoe Lister Jones and Julie White in “Breaking Upwards,” and Oscar nominee Melissa Leo and Mark Duplass in “True Adolescents.”