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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

theatergoers

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

possible

murder of Mozart by his fellow composer Salieri, "Amadeus"

is less a look into the distressed life of the brilliant title

character,

the "Beloved of God," than it is a cunning examination into

the devious mind of his arch-rival, "the patron saint of

mediocrity."

Handsomely, if less glitteringly staged than it was in 1980, by Peter

Hall, who directed the original production, "Amadeus"

contrasts

the different acting styles of the actors as definitively and

provocatively

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,

Suchet’s

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

disintegrating

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

work.

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

"The

Bride of Frankenstein"). Sheen’s performance may, in fact, startle

those for whom historical acquaintance is clouded with misguided

reverence,

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

documentation

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

interest

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

Picture

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,

comically

lewd behavior, and flashback forays into the memory of a hack court

composer at the court of Vienna’s Emperor Joseph II (amusingly

portrayed

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

projections

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

rivalry.

HH

— Simon Saltzman

Amadeus, Music Box Theater, 239 West 45 Street, New York.

Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200. $25 to $75.

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Unless otherwise noted, all Broadway reservations can be made

through Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200. For

Ticketmaster

listings call 800-755-4000 or 212-307-4100.


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