THEATER REVIEW: “Amadeus” @ Cleveland Play House by Laura Kennelly

Photo by Roger Mastroianni

Through April 28

Didn’t know classical music had a naughty side? Let Amadeus, the sizzling Mozart/Salieri fable now at the Cleveland Play House, change your mind. Director Laura Gordon and a fine cast bring Peter Shaffer’s entertaining riff about jealousy and European royal patronage to life in the Outcalt Theatre through April 28.

It’s true that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart died tragically young and that his final commissioned work was a requiem for a secret patron. However, there’s little basis for the play’s supposition that Italian composer Salieri’s jealous efforts destroyed young Mozart. As far as history tells us, Salieri’s music was acclaimed and successful, and he had nothing to do with the poverty and illness that brought Mozart to an untimely end.

But never mind, Amadeus rivetingly illustrates envy’s corrosive powers. The idea of Salieri’s obsession, first posited in verse (1830) by Russian romantic poet Alexander Pushkin, was dramatized by Shaffer in a 1981 Tony-award winning play (later followed by the 1985 Academy Award-winning film version).

As the obsequious villain Salieri, actor Price Waldman gives a mesmerizing demonstration of how jealousy can spark evil and how bad deeds can be rationalized. His Salieri opens the play with a soliloquy directed to the audience. It’s a dark ramble (in Shakespearean mode) in which the older composer (and royal favorite) confesses the pain and jealousy he felt at recognizing Mozart’s facile genius, one that Salieri knew he could never match.

Then the scene shifts to Salieri’s younger days when he first met the youthful Mozart (Will Blum) in Vienna. When Salieri presents a musical piece to his royal patron, young Mozart immediately plays it back, but in a vastly improved version. (Salieri’s reaction reminds me of the “astonished” faces judges wear in America’s Got Talent.) So now he knows, this kid is a genius.

Blum, as the bouncy, smarty-pants young Mozart, is a likeable but careless genius. Mozart’s interactions with his sweetheart-wife Constanze (a playfully naïve Madeline Calais-King) are magic and funny. Blum and King create exuberant (often bawdy) exchanges, spiced with childish potty talk as they tumble around the set.

This behavior annoys Salieri no end. How can such a creature be better than he is? “God isn’t fair,” the older man complains. As the action continues Salieri does bad things to Mozart — bad things Mozart blissfully ignores.

The rest of the persuasive cast (listed, as in the program, in alphabetical order) includes Josh Bates, Scott Campbell, Cate Castelli, Ellen Grace Diehl, Victoria Alev Duffy, Liz Huff, Dylan Ireland, Shunté Lofton, Steve Marvel, Gavin Michaels, Alfredo Ruiz, Jonathan Smoots, September Stanton, and Owen Connor Stout.

Yes, there is quality music. Sound designer Barry G. Funderburg employs snippets of these familiar Mozart pieces to craft a viable, enchanting musical world. There is also a bit of actors faking playing on a fake (I hope) fortepiano placed center-stage. (I add “fake” here because it also serves to move actors around stage — something that might destroy a real instrument.)

The set, designed by Regina Garcia and Jason Fassl, suggests an eighteenth-century world with minimal props. Bright chandeliers, fancy chairs and elegant tables turn Outcalt’s bare-bones stage into a palace, a bedroom and a street as needed. Elegant costumes by Howard Tsvi Kaplan, wigs and hair design by Roxanne De Luna also serve to convey us to a distant past.

Bottom Line: Highly recommended. While Amadeus may highlight jealousy’s toxic and destructive effect, this Cleveland Play House production also celebrates music’s enduring power and beauty. Plus, it’s fun.

[Written by Laura Kennelly]

1407 Euclid Ave, Cleveland, OH 44115

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One Response to “THEATER REVIEW: “Amadeus” @ Cleveland Play House by Laura Kennelly”


    “….Plus, it’s fun.” (I like reading that, which flings happy all over your fence, and I like that in a review. And who wouldn’t).
    The other part is the music. Has the Cleveland Playhouse company recorded the music that it performed in Cleveland?

    note bene: (“….Mozart died tragically young…” : had he lived, what then? Could he then not have died “tragically old”?

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