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Theater Review (Oklahoma City): Amadeus

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Kicking off its 2007-2008 season with a comedic bang, Oklahoma City Theater is reviving Amadeus, Peter Shaffer’s Tony award-winning take on one of history's juiciest rumors.

The story of Amadeus takes place in both past and present tense. In real time, the year is 1823, three decades after the death of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The scuttlebutt in gossip-happy Vienna is that aging composer Antonio Salieri has just confessed to Mozart’s murder.  “Did you hear?” whisper the town gossips with an air of delighted scandal.  “I don’t believe it!”

The old musician then rises from his seat to address the audience directly.  Salieri’s interpretation of the ten years leading up to Mozart’s death unfolds via retrospective narrative, beginning in 1781 with the pair’s first encounter. Salieri, while at an acquaintance’s estate to hear the legendary Mozart perform, is scandalized when he chances to overhear the former child prodigy’s quick-witted foul mouth and to witness his decidedly lewd behavior.  This impromptu display is immediately followed by Mozart’s official performance, a recitation of music so divinely beautiful it gives Salieri physical pain.

For a man who, as a youth, “bargained” with God to bestow upon him musical talent sufficient to sing His highest praises in return for the man’s unwavering devotion and chastity, seeing such a bawdy incarnation of what he considers the Lord’s “mouthpiece” is unbearable.  The sting of betrayal by God, building and simmering over the course of the ensuing few years, eventually leads Salieri to conclude that there remains but one possible course of action. He vows to destroy Amadeus in order to silence God’s voice on earth.

Illusions of grandeur? Probably, but the story told by Schaeffer’s tormented Salieri is a good one. Conspiracy, intrigue, and sexual scandal pepper the plot, a juicy one by any literary standard.  As Salieri guides us through Mozart’s final decade, the relentless obsession that gradually poisoned him becomes more and more apparent. It is striking that a man with so much personal success (he served as court composer for Austrian Emperor Joseph II before being promoted to the rank of Kapellmeister) would fixate to the point of toxicity on another man’s success.

Certainly Salieri saw more success during his lifetime than did Mozart during his own, but for Salieri this is yet another reason to grieve. He has been sentenced, he observes to the audience, to not only create work that is inferior to Mozart’s, but to be the only person on earth who recognizes that fact. He feels that God is rubbing injustice in his face.

Michael Gibbons pops as the jealousy-poisoned Salieri. During Salieri’s appeals to the audience, his gaze pierces audience members individually, imploring them to understand, to take his side.

Salieri’s bane comes alive through David Mays, whose mannerisms as Mozart are delightfully weird. Mays has incredible energy as the bouncy, outrageous musical genius.  Bonnie Frances Montgomery, as Mozart’s wife Constanze, meets Mays’s energy in kind, and the pair have good chemistry.

Adding to Mozart’s bizarre charm is his collection of gaudy dress coats, designed by Brenda Nelson. Each costume change brings a more outrageous upgrade, featuring brighter colors and louder embellishments.  Though they may be less informative about the characters for whom they were designed, the costumes for the rest of the cast are well done also.

Rick Cheek’s set design is quite sparse, allowing scenes to be changed via a bit of furniture shifting. Scene changes are performed, in full view, by members of the cast. This adds to the sense of Salieri’s story being recreated for us by characters, rather than by cast members.

One of the most amusing performances comes from Harvey Mackie, as the Count Franz Orsini-Rosenberg. His comic facial expressions and tottering gait give him the air of someone who is perhaps a bit drunk, or perhaps a bit senile. Very funny.

The rest of the cast also shines in this enjoyable show.  Shawn Hicks portrays Emperor Joseph II. Rounding out his royal court are Rick Cheek as Count Johan Kilian Von Strack, Rich Bailey as Baron Gottfried Van Swieten, and Doug Van Liew as Kapellmeister Bonno. Donna Mackie plays Mrs. Rosenberg.  The four venticellis are played by Rachel Carter, Erin Hicks-Cheek, Anna Holloway and Crystal Sistine Huffman. The venticellis’ parts require tight ensemble timing that is not easy to master. The actors pull this off very nicely.

The show is directed by Deborah Draheim.

Amadeus runs through Oct. 7 at the Civic Center Music Hall’s Freede Little Theater. The Civic Center is located at 201 N. Walker in Oklahoma City.

Tickets may be purchased online or by calling 405-297-2264.

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  • Katie McNeill

    I didn’t realize that this was going to be playing. I will defiantly have to make time to go down town and see it.