Amadeus

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Amadeus

stage  If Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart suddenly floated down out of the sky and waltzed into the nearest record store, he would see ample evidence that the relative indifference paid to his music during his life has morphed into something resembling religious worship. Just as Friedrich Nietzsche said, “Life without music would be a mistake,” classical music without Mozart’s splendidly conceived and melodically sublime compositions would be unimaginable.
    How strange it is, then, that most of our sense of Mozart the man comes from playwright Peter Shaffer’s overblown characterization of him as a potty-mouthed, cackling arrested adolescent. Fans of Amadeus, however, know that the buffoonery simply lends comic touches to this moving play about the discrepancies between inner desire and external reality.
    Live Arts’ production, directed by Mendy St. Ours, is a worthy rendering of Shaffer’s vision. St. Ours isn’t out to impose herself on the material—she presents it with a clean respect that calls to mind an 18th-century composer going through the motions of classical form. While this approach may be disappointing to some, most will be impressed by Live Arts’ ability to pull off an effortless reading of such a dramatically demanding play. In many respects, Shaffer’s work doesn’t need much ornamentation. Those who are only familiar with Milos Forman’s visually stunning film version will welcome all of the wonderful lines that would have cluttered the screenlplay (my favorite: a musically mediocre character saying, “My teacher always told me to avoid music that smells like music”), and notice how the play’s original ending is not only more complex, but also more gritty.
    Jon Cobb plays the title role. At first, it’s distracting how physically wrong he seems for the part—Cobb is tall and sleek, whereas Mozart was very short, with a head too big to match his frame. But all that washes away when it becomes clear how much energy Cobb is willing to expend, and how concentrated and controlled that energy is. The way he bristles with unbounded genius at the beginning is just as believable as the way he seethes with life-induced madness at the end. Adding to the audience’s pleasure is the way Sara Eshleman, as Mozart’s wife, Constanze, matches Cobb’s electric pace step for step.
    Danny Murphy is just fine in the extremely challenging role of Antonio Salieri. The show’s almost three-hour running time would pass more fleetingly, however, if St. Ours and Murphy had worked harder to make each stage in the evolution of Salieri’s anguished jealousy more distinctive. To reverse Austrian Emperor Joseph’s nitwit summation of Mozart’s musical style, “Too many notes” (ah, how much wiser we are today!), Murphy’s performance may have too few.

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