Theater Review: Amadeus

Oct 10, 2019

Credit Andy Robins / WMUK

WMUK’s Gordon Bolar has this review of the Western Michigan University Theatre’s production of Amadeus.

Director Mark Liermann’s superbly acted, crisply staged, and beautifully executed production features the life and music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. But the central character and narrator of Amadeus is a lesser-known figure, composer Antonio Salieri, a contemporary of Mozart in the Austrian Court of Emperor Joseph II.

In the play, Salieri’s chief talent is also his curse. He can recognize, articulate, and keenly appreciate the sublime genius of Mozart. At same time, he's painfully aware that he will never attain either the talent or achievement of his younger rival.

In this fictionalized account of the lives of the two men, playwright Peter Shaffer creates a world of jealousy and divine torment that results in Salieri’s renunciation of God for choosing Mozart as his conduit for beauty.

Credit WMU Theatre

Salieri begins his retrospective tale as a bitter, broken, aging figure in a wheelchair perched high above the stage.

Through quick costume changes and physical transformations, Jerome Jones, in a powerful performance, superbly navigates Salieri’s transition to a more vigorous man thirty years earlier. With commanding presence and confidential tone, Jones takes his audience with him to the moment when Salieri encountered the bizarre antics of what we now know as one of the world’s best-loved composers. Through his eyes, we see Mozart crawling on his hands and knees, meowing like a cat, and submitting to extended self-indulgent bouts of flatulence.

Preston McKale is a revelation as the flamboyantly wigged, childish, genius with a potty mouth. He's capable of spewing scatological epithets at his bride-to-be or effortlessly improvising improvements on Salieri’s cherished compositions. McKale nails Mozart’s off-putting, trade mark sound, a falsetto snicker that mocks Salieri’s trained ears as the “laugh of God.” McKale’s Mozart is convincing as both the penniless savant and the naïve idiot. He adds fuel to the Salieri’s fire for defiance of God’s plan and, more importantly, provides him with a victim ripe for manipulation.

Salieri’s inroad here is Mozart’s unsuspecting wife, Constanze, played by Emma Dunlop. Dunlop shines in this role, first as Mozart’s vivacious playmate in the couple’s flirtatious games, then as Salieri’s deflated and unwilling accomplice in the sexual betrayal of her husband.

Levi Smith, as Emperor Joseph II, provides a humorous snapshot of court royalty with a throw-away delivery of the ubiquitous one-liner: “There it is.” The disengaged emperor’s vapid take summarizes the decadent state of affairs in the realm he surveys.

Luis Barbosa and Audrey Geysbeek, as the Venticelli, add energy and interest to the court intrigue as they keep Salieri informed on Mozart’s every move.

Claire Beaman’s stunning marble and rose set, as well as Kathryn Wagner’s sumptuous period costumes, create an air of royal opulence that sustained the creation of arts and music during the late 18th century.

In Salieri’s bloody finale, he tells us that he will be remembered for killing Mozart and for defying God with his suicide. He also proclaims that he'll be universally revered as the patron saint “of mediocrity.” In doing so, he concludes a production that's engaging, thought provoking, and anything but mediocre.

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