While the Philadelphia Orchestra played Beethoven's classics last weekend in Verizon Hall, the composer himself made his cabaret debut downstairs in the Kimmel's Innovation Studio.
If you accept that Beethoven is "immortal," then you should have no problem when Luddy Van reappears and comments on 21st-Century politics while performing some of his greatest hits.
The composer-pianist is channeled by an excellent singer-pianist named Charles Lindberg (that's correct; perhaps some day someone named Beethoven will impersonate the aviator). Lindberg performs with a white wig, dressed in period regalia while ensconced behind a grand piano. He sings clever words set to his familiar melodies, such as the Moonlight Sonata, Für Elise and Ninth Symphony.
Beethoven comes across as a temperamental egocentric with a need for attention and for liquor. We learn, for example, that the four-note opening chords of his Fifth Symphony were inspired by his demand to his servant: "Pour me a shot!"
The 90-minute one-act show features appearances by Beethoven's mother, Napoleon, Haydn, Mozart and some of Beethoven's mistresses. All of these are played by Katherine Pecevich, who first appears as the star's stage manager. She proves to be a master of dialects, a fine comedienne and a spectacular singer.
Writer-director Nancy Holson exploits Pecevich's talent by giving her an extended scene where she demonstrates modern music that was inspired by Beethoven. Pecevich does Brünnhilde, Jolson, Sinatra and Janis Joplin, while tap dancing, twirling a baton and playing Sousa marches on the piccolo. It's the best performance by a supporting actress in a musical this season.
As if taking a cue from Peter Shafer's Amadeus, this show accentuates the rivalry between Beethoven and Mozart, and the envy that Ludwig supposedly felt. To the tune of Irving Berlin's "Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better," they sing: "I get big ovations / I play variations / I can play them finer / I can make them minor."
To be sure, Ludwig Live! offers little in the way of character development. And some awkwardness occurs during switches between Beethoven's own compositions and those of recent pop composers. But you'll have such a good time that this will seem immaterial.
Our Ludwig sums up his act by singing Barry Manilow's "I Write the Songs That Make the Whole World Sing." Manilow didn't, but Ludwig really did.