Legendary American actor Ellen Burstyn is to make her Australian stage debut in a new production of Moisés Kaufman’s play 33 Variations, which was nominated for Best Play at the 2009 Tony Awards.

Burstyn is known for performances in films such as The Exorcist, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, The Last Picture Show, Requiem for a Dream and How to Make an American Quilt, among many others. She also played a guest role in the Netflix hit House of Cards. During a six-decade career, she has received six Academy Award nominations, winning for Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, seven Golden Globe nominations, winning for the film Same Time, Next Year – for which she also won a Tony Award when the original play had a Broadway season – and five Emmy nominations, winning twice. She was also a Co-Artistic Director of The Actor’s Studio in New York.

Ellen Burstyn. Photograph supplied

In 33 Variations Burstyn plays Katherine Brandt, a clever, terminally ill musicologist who is studying Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations – a piano work that riffs on a waltz by the Viennese music publisher Anton Diabelli, which Beethoven initially dismissed as “a cobbler’s patch”.

The action moves between past and present, between Beethoven’s creation of the work, as he struggles with his failing health, deafness and poverty, and Katherine’s journey to understand the composer’s drive as she searches through a collection of manuscripts in the Beethoven-Haus in Bonn, Germany. Meanwhile, Katherine’s obsession with her research has led to a strained relationship with her daughter. Originally written in 2007, and performed on Broadway in 2009 with Jane Fonda as Katherine, the play incorporates Beethoven’s music as Kaufman explores the parrallel stories.

33 Variations is a dream project for me,” said Burstyn. “I feel Beethoven’s glorious music in my bones and I couldn’t be more excited to travel to Australia to perform this beautiful play.”

Presented by Cameron Lukey and Neil Gooding Productions, in association with Ellis Productions, the play will have a season at Melbourne’s Comedy Theatre in March, directed by Gary Abrahams.

“We’re honoured to be bringing Ellen Burstyn to the Australian stage in a powerhouse role and play befitting her extraordinary talent,” said Lukey. “And we’ll be collaborating with an outstanding Australian cast and creative team to stage a production Melbourne audiences will long remember.”


Update: The cast will include Lisa McCune, William McInnes, Helen Morse, Francis Greenslade, Toby Truslove, Andre de Vanny and pianist Andrea Katz.


33 Variations plays at Melbourne’s Comedy Theatre from March 7, 2019

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