Jane Fonda in Broadway play for first time since '63

In the first performance of a month of scheduled previews, Fonda will play the starring role in "33 Variations," Moisés Kaufman's award-winning play about a musicologist obsessed with understanding Beethoven's own obsession with a particular piece of music.

The play, at the Eugene O'Neill Theater, is scheduled to open March 9 and run through May 24.

Fonda, 70, was last on Broadway in a 1963 revival of O'Neill's "Strange Interlude," though she has performed onstage in "The Vagina Monologues" here and in New York in recent years.

She was just 22 when she made her Broadway debut in 1960 in "There Was a Little Girl," for which she earned a Tony Award nomination for best featured actress.

The actress has not been available for comment in recent weeks and hasn't spoken much about her Broadway return beyond a statement she made when she was cast in November: "I am very excited about being in Moisés' new play. I can't wait to get back on stage with him in this role that I understand so well. It's been 40-some years!"

Here's a quick look at the play, Fonda's co-stars and an earlier Broadway effort she'd probably like to forget.

The play: "33 Variations" gets its name from Beethoven's "33 Variations on a Waltz by Diabelli." Premiered at Arena Stage in Washington, it received the 2008 Harold and Mimi Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award. Playwright and director Kaufman is best-known for directing the Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning play "I Am My Own Wife."

The plot: In 33 scenes that toggle between the present and the 1820s, musicologist Katherine Brandt travels to Beethoven's birthplace in Bonn, Germany, to uncover the mystery surrounding the creation of the composer's 33 variations on Diabelli. Complicating matters, beyond a troubled relationship with her daughter, Katherine is slowly succumbing to ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), and her capacities to walk and speak are fading.

The cast: Along with Fonda, the "33 Variations" cast includes Samantha Mathis (of "Grey's Anatomy") and Colin Hanks (recently seen on "Mad Men''), as well as Zach Grenier, Don Amendolia, Susan Kellermann, Erik Steele and Diane Walsh. (Trivia: In the most recent production in La Jolla, Calif., Katherine was played by Jayne Atkinson, recently the national security adviser on TV's "24.")

Capsule reviews (of the La Jolla Playhouse production): "A deft meditation on obsession, creativity and the fervent urge to find a kind of immortality." (San Diego Union-Tribune)

"Divinely staged if occasionally earthbound ... a beautifully wrought Lifetime special for philharmonic regulars." (Los Angeles Times)

"While sometimes self-conscious ... a moving and mesmerizing evening of theater." (Orange County Register)

Break a leg: The last time Fonda had the leading role in a Broadway play was in "The Fun Couple," a romantic comedy that opened on Oct. 26, 1962. It closed the next day.

— Compiled from news services by Michael Gray

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