Jane Fonda marks return to Broadway after four decades

Tue Mar 10, 2009 1:43pm EDT
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By Chris Michaud

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Oscar-winning actress Jane Fonda opened on Broadway for the first time in 46 years on Monday, starring as a terminally ill academic researching the late work of Beethoven in the play "33 Variations."

An opening night audience at the Eugene O'Neill theater including Renee Zellweger, Dolly Parton, Geoffrey Rush and Rosie O'Donnell turned out to see the play, which was written and directed by Moises Kaufman.

"33 Variations," which co-stars Samantha Mathis and Colin Hanks, tells the story of Beethoven's fascination with a trivial waltz and modern-day musicologist Fonda's determination to ferret out the root of his obsession.

Fonda's troubled relationship with her daughter, played by Mathis, rounds out the plot as the two struggle with Fonda's battle against ALS, or Lou Gehrig's Disease.

The 71-year old actress, also known for her political activism, made her Broadway debut in the 1960 play "There Was a Little Girl" for which she earned a Tony Award nomination for best featured actress. Her last appearance on Broadway was in the 1963 drama "Strange Interlude."

Fonda, who won Academy Awards for her performances in "Klute" and "Coming Home," was rewarded on Monday with an enthusiastic standing ovation.

Many attending the performance commented that Fonda had given a solid, naturalistic performance, if somewhat lacking in projection at times, especially as compared to more seasoned theater actors.

"She definitely is playing to the audience, not to a camera," said one woman during the play's intermission.

The New York Times lauded Fonda's "elegantly restrained" performance for its "layered crispness," finding far more to like in her acting than in the play itself, which it called "soggy" and "clunky."

(Editing by Jackie Frank)

<p>U.S. actress Jane Fonda attends a panel discussion "Reel Women Power: Advancing social and humanitarian issues through the medium of films" during the Middle East International Film Festival (MEIFF) in Abu Dhabi October 15, 2008. REUTERS/Jumana El Heloueh</p>