33 Variations Can't Shake the Amadeus Comparisons


One is a play about the lives of two classical composers, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri. The other concerns an aging scholar trying to solve a mystery about Beethoven. The works were conceived nearly 30 years apart. So why can’t writer-director Moisés Kaufman’s 33 Variations avoid comparisons to Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus? Because it seems like many critics would have preferred to be watching the latter at the opening night for the former. After the jump, a handful of reviews that suggest that even bringing Fonda back to Broadway after a 46 year absence can’t help Kaufman’s new work — his debut as a Broadway playwright — hit the right notes.

“Mr. Kaufman evidently hoped to create a sort of cultural-metaphysical detective story, somewhere between the biographical psychodrama of Peter Shaffer’s ‘Amadeus’ and the time-traveling, serious playfulness of Tom Stoppard’s ‘Arcadia.’ But here Mr. Kaufman lacks the brazen theatrical flair of Mr. Shaffer and the cerebral deftness of Mr. Stoppard, offering instead much canned sentimental dialogue about self-knowledge and self-acceptance.” [NYT]

“The result is a strained, pseudo-serious, intellectually scattershot project that makes us appreciate all the pitfalls that ‘Wit’ (about a dying scholar with intimacy issues) and ‘Amadeus’ (about Mozart’s creative process) managed to avoid.” [Newsday]

“Too bad this handsomely designed but unconvincing drama isn’t as big an event as Fonda’s return. Writer-director Moises Kaufman (‘Gross Indecency,’ ‘The Laramie Project’) is known for visually inventive works that blend fact and fiction. He delivers both in this play, seen earlier in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. But what begins as an exciting journey of discovery, with hints of ‘Amadeus,’ sinks into a conventional Lifetime momand-daughter reconciliation.” [Daily News]

“Ending in a laughable pseudo-epiphany, ’33 Variations’ is really a charade in three parts: one part ‘Amadeus,’ one part Cliffs Notes, and one part ‘Lifetime Movie of the Week.'” [Bloomberg]

And one that invokes the play, but implies that 33 Variations is as good, just different:

“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.'” [FOXNews]

Check out an interesting interview with Kaufman over on Gothamist where the word “Amadeus” isn’t mentioned once.