Jane Fonda Channels Famous Dad in ‘Grapes’ Opera

Two time Oscar winner Jane Fonda got a chance to do something unusual and wonderful last night. She channeled the spirit of her Oscar winner dad, Henry Fonda.

“I could really feel his presence,” Jane said after her triumphal performance narrating the opera version of “The Grapes of Wrath,” at Carnegie Hall. The one time only show was presented with over 100 members of the Collegiate Chorale, a full orchestra, and several well known singers including Christine Ebersole, Nathan Gunn, Victoria Clark, and Stephen Pasquale.

Of course, Jane’s dad famously portrayed the main character, Tom Joad, in John Ford’s classic film from 1940. As Tom Joad, Henry Fonda gives maybe the most famous speech in motion picture history.

“They asked me to read the speech,” Jane said after taking several bows last night. “But I couldn’t do it. I just kept welling up.” Instead, the characters of Tom Joad and his mother sing a song called “I’ll Be There” that evokes the speech without its exact language.

The opera is full of other terrific songs including one sung by Victoria Clark called “No Innocence” that’s a show stopper. Ricky Ian Gordon and Michael Korie’s work deserves a wider airing than one night only at Carnegie Hall. Luckily, several representatives of various opera companies were seen in the audience, as well as bold faced names such as record producer Richard Perry (Jane’s beau), Catherine Keener, David Hyde Pierce, Patricia Bosworth, and Carl Bernstein.

Whether “Grapes” gets another performance soon is unknown, but Fonda will return to the stage next winter when she brings her Tony nominated “33 Variations” to the Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles.

She’ll miss working with Ebersole, though. “It’s like she has light shining from within,” said Jane of the “Grey Gardens” star.

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