Playwright: Peter Schaffer
Director: Scott Campbell
Producer: Lakewood Playhouse
Dates: March 30 – April 22, 2007

Independent Review – Seattle Performs
April 19, 2007

This is an excellent production, staged simply and effectively in the round by director Scott Campbell and boasting a cast that is always competent and sometimes brilliant.

According to the director’s notes, this production follows one of the later incarnations of Peter Schaffer’s oft-revised script, this one with more focus on composer/Mozart rival Antonio Salieri’s relationship with God. As a successful but ultimately unsatisfied court musician painfully aware of his own mediocrity, Salieri’s world is shaken to the core when the young whippersnapper Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart enters the scene (played to a childlike, annoying, aggravatingly ridiculous T by Bryan K. Bender). It is fascinating to watch the transformation as Salieri’s relationship with Mozart changes from petty jealousy to outright obsession, eventually becoming a personal vendetta against God, who he believes has spurned him by endowing such divine musical genius on Mozart. Much meaning is wrung out of the origins of the name “Amadeus.”

Scott C. Brown as Salieri is absolutely riveting. With brooding intensity he lucidly expresses Salieri’s inner turmoil as he is constantly amazed by the pure genius of Mozart’s gift while simultaneously becoming more bent on destroying him. He rapturously describes a piece of Mozart’s as the music plays softly below him, his passion leaving the audience in a spellbound ecstasy, as if encountering the (now familiar) piece for the first time. Every word is enthralling.

The play is also not without its comic moments. Steve Tarry’s breezy royalty and his band of earnest officials provide plenty of laughs, as do Salieri’s deadpan accounts of his many awkward social encounters. Lauren Wood’s bubbly, simple and somewhat silly Constanze (Mozart’s wife) provides an amusing and later touching glimpse into Mozart’s home life and the most persuasive counter to Salieri’s view of Mozart as God’s personal spite against him.

Lakewood Playhouse has mounted some excellent productions in recent years, and this is easily one of the most compelling. As Joe Boling used to say, “this is worth the drive down south.” Really.

‘Amadeus’ hits the right notes
ALEC CLAYTON – Tacoma News Tribune
April 6, 2007

Pictured: Scott C. Brown as Antonio Salieri, left, and Bryan Bender as Mozart. Photo by Dean Lapin

Pictured: Scott C. Brown as Antonio Salieri, left, and Bryan Bender as Mozart. Photo by Dean Lapin

You might remember the Academy Award-win­ning movie “Ama­deus,” starring Tom Hulce as the giggling man-boy Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and F. Murray Abraham as the dark and conflicted Antonio Salieri. Most memorable in the movie was Mozart’s amazing laugh – a high-pitched and explosive screech – and his virtuoso piano playing.

In the production at Lakewood Playhouse, which stars Scott C. Brown as Salieri and Bryan Bender as Mozart, that hyena laugh is still in evidence, but the music takes a back seat to the drama, and Salieri’s role looms much larger.

An exquisitely stylized artifice – which is how Salieri describes a Mozart opera – the play is more abstract than the movie and more visceral.

The stage is set by the two Venticelli (Jamie Pederson and Darrel Shephard). Described by playwright Peter Shaffer as “purveyors of fact, rumor and gossip,” the Venticelli are silly, fey, powdered and bewigged young men who prance about and tell the audience (and Salieri) what is going on. They are Salieri’s paid spies and also serve as a Greek chorus. They announce that Salieri claims to have killed Mozart, but that nobody believes him. And then Salieri is wheeled on stage in a wheelchair, and he begins to plead his case to the audience as if addressing a jury. From this point on, Salieri becomes – like the God he mocks and cajoles throughout the play – a trinity: a bitter and dying old man; the actor in his own story; and the narrator who harangues God and explains to the audience what is going on.

This is a highly demanding role, and Brown proves more than adequate to the challenge.
Early on, Salieri bargains with God to make him a great and famous composer. Success follows soon after, convincing him that God has accepted his bargain. But then God brings a rival to Vienna, the young genius Mozart, who is much greater than Salieri; Salieri then believes God has betrayed him.

He vows to destroy God by destroying his creature, Mozart. And in order to destroy Mozart, he must become his mentor and benefactor. He pretends to guide Mozart’s career while actually seeing to it that he is penniless and that his marvelous music never gets the audience it deserves.

Bender’s Mozart is just as silly and childishly insane as the memorable Tom Hulce character in the movie. He looks and acts a lot like the great comic actor Crispin Glover, and he plays Mozart as a sex-obsessed and potty-mouthed overgrown child. During the course of the play, he goes from a fun-loving child secure in his awareness of his own genius to a desperate and destitute man falling apart from the inside out and completely at the mercy of his destroyer, Salieri.

Despite a highly complex plot, the play is engaging and easy to follow. It is beautifully directed by Scott Campbell. Dramatic lighting by Ali Criss and a classic set designed by Erin Chanfrau enhance the drama. The acting is superb. Both Bender and Brown stand out in their complex roles. Lauren Wood does a commendable job as Mozart’s wife, Constanze, and Pederson and Shephard are hilarious as the Venticelli.

The music is recorded. The gilded piano has no keyboard. But music is important to both the mood of the play and the progression of the plot. Some of the most inspiring moments come when Salieri describes Mozart’s music as the music plays in the background. The more he hates Mozart, the more he loves his music. It is, to him, God’s voice on Earth. And Brown conveys this rapture convincingly.

Even though some of Salieri’s monologues and harangues are overly drawn out and the play is awfully long, “Amadeus” is easily among the top five plays I have seen since beginning this column four years ago. It is a roller-coaster ride between peaks of hilarity and depths of despair. Mozart’s language, while appropriate to the character, may be offensive to some audience members.

Rock me, ‘Amadeus’ – Lakewood knows the score of Mozart play
April 5, 2007

Scott C. Brown (Salieri) looks for Bryan K. Bender (Mozart) at Lakewood Playhouse. Photo by Dean Lapin

Scott C. Brown (Salieri) looks for Bryan K. Bender (Mozart) at Lakewood Playhouse. Photo by Dean Lapin

A lesser person would think that a play named “Amadeus” would be about that composer dude who wrote “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” before he had his first blemish and hammered out the score of some of the world’s best musical works before he had the obligation to shave his face. Certainly, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart deserves his props, but this play isn’t about him in the slightest, truth be told. He is just a bit actor in a play that bears his name.

When the Lakewood Playhouse announced last spring that it was staging “Amadeus,“ I thought of it as an odd choice for the otherwise meat-and-potatoes theater. But I’ll eat crow on this one. Lakewood Playhouse chose correctly.

The Oscar and Tony Award-winning story is a tale that pulls audiences in slowly, like a boa slowly and stealthily squeezing a mouse to death. The story loops around the audience and tightens ever so slowly and gradually as it follows the self-narrated story of Antonio Salieri, the accomplished and celebrated court conductor who sees trouble when a brilliant, young composer arrives in town.

Salieri is noted and talented, but he sees the brilliance that Mozart possesses and yearns to match it. But it is not to be, so Salieri grows jealous of the rising star. Bitterness sets in and crumbles the once great composer. The God-fearing Salieri considers Mozart’s music perfectly divine and begins questioning his faith over contemplation of the fact that although Mozart certainly has talent, he is also a vulgar and truly low person. Salieri spins into madness over the idea that God would give Mozart such talent and leave one of his true followers only a modest talent in the art of music.

The story is best known for the 1984 film version that won eight Oscars five years after the play version took to a stage. The trick to having this play work is to make sure Mozart doesn’t grab all of the attention, which is sort of tough since he is the only known person in the cast and the play is named after him.

Lakewood makes it work.

Its keystone is the depth of talent of Scott C. Brown in the role of Salieri. He is brilliant in the way he transforms between a younger to an older man with a few nuances in his body language as the play unfolds through a series of flashbacks and narratives.

The list of Brown’s favorite roles gives a glimpse of his mind. He likes the tough roles, and this ranks among them. He was Capt. Markinson in “A Few Good Men,” Friar Lawrence in “Romeo and Juliet,” the Creature in “Frankenstein” and Porthos in last year’s staging of “The Three Musketeers.”

Bryan K. Bender, for the record, plays Mozart. He is OK — not bad, not great. He gets the job done.

I have to give a big shout out to Alex Lewingston, who not only plays the bit role of Teresa Salieri but also did a wonderful job with the costumes. They are amazingly intricate and add to the show the way few wardrobes ever do. This play hinges on the fact that it has to draw audiences into believing they are entering a long-ago time and a faraway place. Lewingston’s costumes do the job so well I think I got the plague just from sitting in the audience. This is a show to be seen and talked about.

Lakewood Playhouse season continues with ‘Amadeus’
DAVE R. DAVISON – Tacoma Weekly
April 5, 2007

The Lakewood Playhouse continues its 2006-2007 season with the production of Peter Shaffer’s “Amadeus.” The production opened on March 30 and runs through April 22.

The play is set in 18th century Vienna, then the capital of the Hapsburg Empire of Joseph II. The tale of the career and premature death of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is told from the point of view of Antonio Salieri, a court composer of the Emperor Joseph II.

The action begins with the aged Salieri (ably portrayed by Scott C. Brown) being wheeled out onto the stage in a wicker wheelchair. Haunted by whispered accusations that he destroyed Mozart, Salieri summons “ghosts of the future,” the audience, to hear his confessional tale.

Discarding his turban-like nightcap, his heavy night-coat, and his wheelchair, Salieri takes on the strong voice and the upright posture of his past days and commences to narrate the story. The narration, directed at the audience, is punctuated by vignettes of Salieri’s interactions with Mozart and members of the emperor’s court.

As a composer himself, Salieri finds himself to be the only one able to discern the divine inspiration in Mozart’s music – and yet he despises the potty-mouthed (parent advisory for harsh language), arrogant young man that Salieri perceives as a vessel of God’s music.

Upon hearing the music of Mozart, Salieri knows how poor his own compositional abilities are by comparison. “I felt my emptiness as Adam felt his nakedness,” he laments.

The drama is a tragedy not only for Mozart, but also for Salieri, who is willing to destroy his own soul in order to thwart God and Mozart. He is like that prideful Lucifer in Milton’s “Paradise Lost” who would rather rule in hell than serve in heaven.

Members of the audience can despise Salieri – both as a character and a historical figure – for causing the premature death of Mozart. If his claim is true, he robbed the world of all the music that might have been when he cut short a brilliant career. What might Mozart have accomplished had he been given due recognition and a comfortable living? Yet at the same time Salieri is a fascinating character to watch in his self-destructive contest against the divine forces that he sees at work in the person of Mozart.

As Salieri, Brown has his work cut out for him. The role requires that he carry the bulk of the performance on his shoulders. He proves up to the task, capturing the complexity and depth of the character. The script requires that he shift from an ailing old man to his younger self and back again several times. He interacts with the other characters at the same time that he narrates his ongoing confession to the audience.

Erin Chanfrau’s cross-shaped stage proves to be an interesting artifice. The actors stride and cavort back and forth, up and down and over the narrow, cross-shaped platform that runs through the span of the theatrical space.

The cruciform arrangement of the stage also adds a layer of symbolic meaning to the play, helping to emphasize Salieri’s belief that Mozart is a creature in which the divine is incarnate. Mozart is in this sense a Christ-like figure, odd as it may seem. The point is brought home in the scene in which Mozart dies in the arms of his wife, Constanze, in the very center of the cross/stage. The two are positioned in the manner of a pieta, with Constanze cradling the dead Mozart just as the Virgin Mary is depicted cradling the dead Jesus.

On the downside, the use of Mozart’s music handled just a little too softly. At times, one almost has to strain to hear it, so ephemerally is it handled. Perhaps this was deliberate on the part of director Scott Campbell, but it can have the effect of causing a distracting frustration. One desires to better hear the music that is at the root of the drama.

Weighing in at three hours in length (dare it be joked that the play has “too many words?”), the play requires the audience to hold its attention for longer than is customary in this era of the remote control.

Theatergoers would be well advised to get a sugar boost during the intermission. The theater offers an array of sweet confections in the lobby. The “nipples of Venus” are especially recommended.

All told, Brown’s performance and the thought-provoking material make attendance at Lakewood Playhouse’s production of “Amadeus” a worthwhile endeavor.

Published on February 25, 2009 at 8:46 am  Leave a Comment  

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