33 Variations

By Moisés Kaufman

Directed by Dustin J. Martin
March 10 to 26, 2017

Read the Reviews:
Waukesha Freeman, Shepherd Express, WaukeshaNOW

Click on a photo to see a larger image

Photos By Carroll Studios Of Photography

Volunteer of the Production

Leah Teske

Sponsored In Part By

WCT projects are supported in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin.


Ruth Arnell


Michael Chobanoff


Paula Garcia


Nicholas Callan Haubner


Cory Klein


Carl Liden


Beth Perry


Production Staff 


Dustin J. Martin

Music Director & Pianist

Julie Johnson

Scenic Designer & Master Carpenter

Michael Talaska

Stage Manager & Dialect Coach

Pam Seccombe


Marann K. Curtis

Costume Designer

Dana Brzezinski

Lighting Designer

Scott Fudali

Sound Designer

Keith Handy

Properties Designer

Shawn Spellman

Projections Designer

Matt Hermes

‘33 Variations’ explores limits of life

Beethoven’s challenges contrasted with an American musicologist By JULIE McHALE - TimeOut Theater Critic
March 16, 2017

WAUKESHA - A totally fascinating experience awaits you in "33 Variations" by Moisés Kaufman. Two lives are examined as each person living in different worlds faces the end of his life, making choices as to how to live out his final days.

The story rotates back and forth between the struggles of Ludwig von Beethoven (1770-1827) and an American musicologist called Katherine, who spends her final months in Bonn, Germany, Beethoven’s birthplace, studying his notes to determine his motivation for writing "33 Variations," based on a motif found in Diabelli’s musical composition.

Anton Diabelli (Karl Liden), a composer of little note, had an idea to publish a book based on original works of well-known composers, each of whom would submit one variation on a work by Diabelli himself. At first Beethoven (Michael Chobanoff) refused, saying he was working on another project and didn’t have the time.

This was not a happy time for the accomplished musician. With his faithful companion Anton Schindler (Cory Klein), he was fighting poverty and progressive deafness, a condition that started to afflict him at the early age of 25. But he was very gifted and very obsessive about his music.

Katherine (Beth Perry) had received a diagnosis of ALS, often called Lou Gehrig’s disease. It is a very debilitative illness, but she is determined to finish her thesis on this Beethoven mystery, so despite her daughter Clara’s (Ruth Arnell) warning to stay at home near her doctor, she made the journey by herself. In her research, she finds a friend and a mentor in Gertie (Paula Garcia), the librarian in charge of old manuscripts at the Bonn Library.

Besides the parallel stories between the German composer and a woman who idolized him, this story also deals with Katherine’s relationship with her only daughter. Katherine is a driven woman who lives by her brain more than her heart. Their relationship is strained at best, for Katherine is obviously disappointed in her daughter’s tendency to flit from one interest to another instead of dedicating herself to one passion, as she herself did. Parental expectations can often serve as a barrier rather than an inspiration and a means of establishing a loving bond.

As Katherine’s condition worsens, Clara, along with her boyfriend and nurse (Nicholas Callan Haubner), a man whom she met during one of her mother’s medical visits, go to Bonn to be of service.

At times both Beethoven and Katherine speak directly to the audience. There is also a pianist on stage who performs some of the composer’s variations on Diabelli’s theme. (Julie Johnson executes his works with sensitivity and aplomb.) The whole play is structured in a very innovative way.

Besides the creative concept inherent in the script, the careful individuation of each character, the very capable actors, one and all, that comprise the cast, and the masterful direction of Dustin J. Martin, the production is quite an astounding theatrical tour de force for a community theater. I can’t imagine a professional one surpassing its excellence. Don’t let this one get by. It’s unforgettable.

Waukesha Civic Theatre's Love Letter to Beethoven in '33 Variations'

By Hannah Klapperich-Mueller
Mar. 14, 2017

Going to the theater to laugh and cry and see love in action is great, but going to the theater to laugh, cry, love and learn something is even better. 33 Variations has a little bit of everything: a mother-daughter journey, romance and dead composers gesticulating wildly from behind bookcases. The story follows renowned scholar Katherine Brandt as she seeks the explanation and the story behind Ludwig van Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations, a set composed in response to a waltz written by one of Beethoven’s less exceptional contemporaries, Antonio Diabelli (1781-1858).

While Brandt struggles with intellectual dilemmas rooted in the past, she also struggles with a highly physical present, in which her body is undergoing the ravages of amyotrophic laterals sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. As it states in the program, "ALS is a progressive disorder caused by the destruction of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, which results in the progressive loss of muscle control." Beth Perry gives a skillful, heart-wrenching performance, depicting the brilliant woman’s physical deterioration with dignity and feeling.

The play encompasses such high-flown topics as the minutiae of historical music theory and the destruction of the body, while keeping room for humor and love. Ruth Arnell and Nicholas Callan Haubner provide moments of well-earned laughter as their characters progress from a shy romance to one of the most touching, practical examples of love.

A simple, effective set designed by Michael Talaska morphs from hospital room, to concert hall, to library, and elegant projections by Matt Hermes complete the picture. The actors are assisted through their story by Julie Johnson on piano, constantly present on an upstage platform, providing the music that ties stories of past and present together.

For those who tend to find classical music boring, here is a play in which one finds the men who composed it chasing each other, hiding under tables and spitting soup. For classical music lovers, this play is like a piece of music coming to life with all the humor, sex and humanity that inspired it. 33 Variations is a not-to-be-missed element of Waukesha Civic Theatre’s current season.

'33 Variations' proves to be invariably in tune

By Marilyn Jozwik - WaukeshaNOW Theater Critic
March 13, 2017

How do you build a theatrical production around an aging music professor suffering from a terminal illness, juxtaposed with the story of the celebrated composer Ludwig van Beethoven’s suffering from a variety of ailments (including hearing loss)?

The two stories merge in a unique bit of theater, "33 Variations" by Moises Kaufman, currently being presented by Waukesha Civic Theatre. This is a marvelous production in so many ways, most notably its staging and the performances of a veteran cast that infuses these stories with power and poignancy, humor and humanness. Dustin Martin is the director.

Raised up and at the center of the stage is a grand piano with the show’s music director, Julie Johnson, at the keyboard. A large screen behind her displays the variation she is playing and other scenes related to the onstage action.

Musical questions
The story begins with Katherine (Beth Perry), a musicologist with ALS who, for her final scholarly presentation, seeks to learn why Beethoven wrote 33 variations to a simple waltz by Anton Diabelli (Carl Liden), a publisher and composer. Diabelli had asked all the notable composers of the time to write a single variation on the theme, which would be represented in a volume of variations he would publish. Reluctant at first, Beethoven went on to produce 33 over a four-year period.

"What was it about this mediocre waltz that so captivated him?" Katherine wonders. To find the answer, Katherine travels across the ocean to Bonn, Germany, the birthplace of Beethoven.

Katherine is not one to settle for mediocrity, as her daughter, Clara (Ruth Arnell), is well aware. Clara has had many jobs, but nothing seems to have stuck.

"I excel at changing careers," she jokes to her mother. Her mother is not happy, and Clara knows her own lifestyle is unacceptable to her. "When she looks at me, all she sees is failure," says Clara.

But Clara is about to embark on the most difficult challenge of her life – taking care of her very independent mother, whose body is gradually deteriorating. With the help of her mother’s nurse, Michael (Nicholas Callan Haubner), and Gertie (Paula Garcia), the archivist she meets in Germany, Clara begins to understand who her mother is as Katherine lives out the remainder of her life.

Beethoven's struggle
The parallel story is that of Beethoven (Michael Chobanoff), nearing the end of his life but still composing beautiful works. Beethoven’s assistant, Schindler (Cory Klein), must cope with the volatile artist during his fits of rage and irrationality and must find ways to keep them both fiscally afloat.

We see Schindler early on bargaining with Diabelli on a price for his boss to compose the variation, and then the battles he must wage with Diabelli when Beethoven insists on not just one variation, but spends several years to compose 33.

Scenes alternate between Beethoven in his time and Katherine in modern times, but occasionally the two periods come together – and that is when the play is at its most powerful.

The culmination of the first act features all the characters facing their challenges, with the pleas and proclamations rising in allegro fashion to a great crescendo. It is a most effective scene, done so well by this expert cast.

In the second act, Katherine, her disease worsening, continues to dissect Beethoven’s short compositions, called "sketches," with the help of friend Gertie.

As Katherine excitedly sees and touches the works of the great composer (some stained with soup), she wonders about his motivation. "Is Beethoven transitioning Diabelli’s waltz to its better self while his body is deteriorating?" she asks. At times she thinks Beethoven is making fun of Diabelli, or questions, "What if he did it for the money?"

Beethoven is also on a journey, struggling to understand his tinnitus and other ailments, concluding at one point: "I created music I never could have created if I could hear."

The production also touches on the volatile times in Vienna, where Beethoven lived. "How can there be freedom or progress when the police hear every word we say?" Beethoven asks.

In the scene in which Johnson plays the finished sketches on the piano, Chobanoff’s Beethoven describes in animated musical terms his rationale for each as he romps across the stage as if his very actions are creating the wonderful sounds. It is a wonderfully dramatic scene wherein Chobanoff captures the culmination of the composer’s incredible creativity.

Pitch-perfect play
This is an amazing cast, starting with Perry, who really stretches dramatically. Through her we see Katherine’s single-mindedness and strength as she chooses her own tedious opus to end her life. At one point she mumbles "my tongue has begun to die," while we watch Beethoven also struggling with his health.

The Katherine-Beethoven stories are wonderful counterpoints, with Beethoven’s being the overpowering one because of the composer’s arrogance and explosive nature, captured so well by Chobanoff.

The love story that develops between Clara and Michael, while rather clichéd, is handled nicely by Arnell and Haubner. As Clara, Arnell mimics her mother’s toughness, but also zeroes in on her character’s vulnerabilities. Haubner treats Clara with a gentleness that softens her hard-shelled character and makes their relationship most appealing.

Garcia gives Gertie a sprightly quality, making the most of several scenes – especially the cafeteria scene – with a delightful comic edge.

Liden and Klein as Diabelli and Schindler, respectively, are solid in their roles, adding appropriate accents to their well-drawn characters.

This show has so many pieces that need to fit perfectly, or the whole story and effect could go out of tune. All aspects here are pitch perfect. Notable is Scott Fudali’s lighting, which puts a golden glow on pianist Johnson and highlights individuals and small groups in different eras, creating effective separation and eliminating the need for set changes.

Johnson plays beautifully as she dips and moves with the master’s works. The piano could have been louder at points, especially during the dramatic playing of the set of variations.

Nonetheless, this is a wonderful bit of theater, a musical and emotional journey that both music lovers and others would enjoy.

Student rate is available for children and any patron with a current student ID. Senior rate applies to all patrons 60 years or older. Military rate is available for any patron with a valid current Military ID.

For our "Pay What You Can" performances, patrons can buy tickets for that show on the day of the performance at whatever price their budget will allow.

Subscriber rate is available to any subscriber for unlimited additional tickets outside their package.

10 ticket minimum per performance required.

Educational Group Rate is only available for all educational groups and Boy and Girl Scout troops. 10 ticket minimum per performance required.

Volunteer of the Production - Leah Teske

Leah gives selflessly to ensure a smooth, solid performance. Her help backstage was invaluable to the show. She was always ready and willing to do whatever was needed, with an extremely helpful and enthusiastic attitude. She always shareed her many talents - she can do anything!

Way to go, Leah. Thank you!