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Live Active Cultures

‘33 Variations’ at Garden Theatre

A play about transformation in a theater on the edge of transformation in a town that's been transformed

Photo: Photos by Kristen Wheeler, KHphotographics, License: N/A

Photos by Kristen Wheeler, KHphotographics

Two supporting players also deserve special attention. Musical director Julian Bond plays the titular pieces live on stage with virtuosity worthy of a stand-alone concert; his interplay with Gibson as the composer narrates the creation of his final variations is an exceptional example of the integration of dialogue and music. And lighting designer Amy Hadley (with Marshall, Tiwari and the rest of the tech team) masterfully edited elements of the original production’s video design, precisely mapping the projections onto Tom Mangieri’s multistory scenery to create slickly shifting scene-setting backdrops.

The plot and characters of 33 Variations are compelling, but I was even more intrigued by the larger implication of its theme. For what purpose do we attempt to transfigure something – a piece of music or theater – or someone – a child or a lover? Is it for their benefit or simply for our own aggrandizement? Do we seek to improve in order to illuminate that which we already admire, or do we metamorphosize merely to make fun of a form we find inadequate?

These questions are explicit in the play’s text, but also implicit in this production’s Plant Street venue. Walking along Winter Garden’s charming main drag, which teems with trendy eateries and open-air entertainment, one can’t help but admire the transfiguration wrought by the Roper family on this community, which was in dangerous decline less than a decade ago. Likewise, just as the Roper-led restoration of the Garden Theatre helped revitalize the entire town, producer Beth Marshall has brought a new, edgier energy to the theater with envelope-pushing productions like this and Alice Lost in Wonderland. Garden Theatre has done a great job establishing itself with family-friendly, community-oriented shows, but more works like this one will eventually elevate its appeal to audiences from all over the Central Florida area who are in search of more sophisticated fare.

(33 Variations runs through March 30 at Garden Theatre, 160 W. Plant St., Winter Garden. Tickets and information available at gardentheatre.org)

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