Corrections or additions?
Critic: Simon Saltlzman. Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on February
2, 2000. All rights reserved.
Broadway Review: `Amadeus’
A new generation of theatergoers is getting a fresh
look at "Amadeus," the play about composers Wolfgang Amadeus
Mozart and Antonio Salieri by Peter Shaffer. A new generation of
is also going to pay $75 for the play that had a top price of $27.50
when it was new, just 20 years ago. Speculating craftily on the
murder of Mozart by his fellow composer Salieri, "Amadeus"
is less a look into the distressed life of the brilliant title
the "Beloved of God," than it is a cunning examination into
the devious mind of his arch-rival, "the patron saint of
Handsomely, if less glitteringly staged than it was in 1980, by Peter
Hall, who directed the original production, "Amadeus"
the different acting styles of the actors as definitively and
as the play contrasts astounding genius with the simply ordinary.
A meticulously polished performance by David Suchet, as Salieri (an
actor familiar to Americans as Hercule Poirot in the PBS television
mystery series), collides in an unusual and sometimes haunting way
with the stunningly idiosyncratic performance given by Michael Sheen,
as Mozart. As a meticulous jealous plotter and devilish seducer,
studied affectations are admirably rendered. However, this now almost
forgotten composer, whose claim to fame was his attempt to stifle
Mozart’s progress and literally destroy him, is, in Suchet’s charge,
a more empathetic and pitiable chap than we remember him being. As
the plot spins in flashback style, Suchet makes a most astonishing
transformation from a decrepit semi-invalid with a noticeably
voice into an erect and rather persuasive young man full of arrogance
and disdainful insouciance.
It is for Salieri to settle the score (pardon the pun) and to relive
memories of the 10 frustrating years he was in conflict not only with
the imposing greatness of the young Mozart, but with the injustice
that he feels God has bestowed upon him. Suchet’s smoothly graded
psychological erosion, as he witnesses the implanted musical divinity
of his rival threaten and ultimately transcend his own lackluster
contributions, is a masterful display of a skilled actor’s craft at
As this juncture, we are well prepared for a hyperactive Mozart whose
crude, tasteless and impetuous behavior, let alone his giggling fits,
don’t seem to impede the young prodigy’s musical progress. I was not
prepared, however, for the unforgettable veil of sadness that hangs
over this impetuous youth, and the often painfully unsophisticated
state of Mozart’s being apart from his genius, that Sheen brings to
the role. With his wild frizzy hair and frenzied movements, Sheen
has the look of a maniacal scientist whose unorthodox experiments
with life constantly backfire (reminiscent of Dr. Praetorious in
Bride of Frankenstein"). Sheen’s performance may, in fact, startle
those for whom historical acquaintance is clouded with misguided
and with previous interpretations. As the playwright makes clear,
the foul-mouthed, crudely mannered young Mozart was as outspoken and
incomparable in society as he proved himself to be as a musician.
My regret is that I continue to find Shaffer’s high-minded
of the disintegration of genius at the hands of mediocrity rather
dreary going. That the play tries valiantly to make us care who does
what to whom and why seems like a reasonable objective. At its best,
this object is reached in fits and spurts, mainly to do with our
in Mozart’s recklessly transcending the limitations of his peers,
and our perverse interest in Salieri’s destructive machinations. In
the play, the years and scenes appear crudely chronicled, and too
often seem like recapitulations of what we’ve just seen. The final
scenes, slightly tweaked, in which the destitute Mozart is dying and
yet haunts Salieri as a bete noir are compelling; these make the long
wait for emotional involvement worthwhile.
The superior film version (winner of nine Oscars including Best
in 1984) had the advantage of lavish spectacle and lots of music.
So what is it about the play, which I don’t think is standing the
test of time, that makes me yawn? For all its literate babble,
lewd behavior, and flashback forays into the memory of a hack court
composer at the court of Vienna’s Emperor Joseph II (amusingly
by David McCallum), the play remains long-winded and just too darn
long at three almost hours.
The large supporting cast, including a feisty Cindy Katz, as Mozart’s
playfully kittenish wife, and Jake Broder and Charles Janasz as the
gossipy "venticelli," look smart and swishy, respectively,
in William Dudley’s 18th-century duds. But Dudley’s sets and
have a cheap, road show look about them. While Shaffer’s play is more
significantly Salieri’s than it is mostly Mozart, it nevertheless
reveals more than a few insights into a fascinating historical
— Simon Saltzman
Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200. $25 to $75.
through Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200. For
listings call 800-755-4000 or 212-307-4100.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.