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Theater Review: “Amadeus”

The cast of South Coast Repertory’s 2016 production of Amadeus by Peter Shaffer.
Photo credit:
Debora Robinson/SCR

Don’t believe everything you hear in Peter Shaffer’s “Amadeus.” Just enjoy what you see for the terrific story it is.

“Amadeus” is Shaffer’s 1979 fictionalization of Mozart’s last ten years. Child prodigy Mozart (Asher Grodman), now 25, had journeyed from his home in Salzburg to the musical bigtime in Vienna, where he hoped to find backers and write (more) brilliant music.

In the court of Joseph II (Peter Frechette), he finds Antonio Salieri (Marco Barricelli), the court composer, older and hailed as a genius – but in fact much less talented than this whippersnapper newcomer – a fact which becomes all too evident to Salieri in short order.

This will lead to professional jealousy on the part of Salieri, and the opportunity to sabotage the young composer while pretending to help him.

That much is true.

But don’t take it too seriously when the old man walks on the stage and announces he’s going to play his “last composition – ‘The Death of Mozart, or, Did I Do It?’” – because what follows is a fanciful (though widely disseminated) story about Salieri doing in the young genius with poison.

Nah. Never happened.

But this Salieri, a good religious boy who wants to do God’s will, does spend the rest of the play arguing with God about why He chose to bestow genius on this “obscene child.”

He also succumbs to the temptation to make Mozart’s life  more difficult – and he has the power and contacts to make that happen.

South Coast Repertory gives us a fine cast and visual splendor for this intriguing if wordy (three plus hours) bit of imagination. Kent Nicholson directs with a sure hand.

Barricelli is spectacular as Salieri, as he agonizes over his relative lack of talent and plots to prevent Mozart from becoming more important than he is. Barricelli, onstage the whole time, must be exhausted after each performance.

Grodman has to play the enfant terrible who probably never was – a 25-year-old man-child seen by Salieri chasing his young wife Constanze (Liesel Allen Yeager) under a table while uttering obscenities.

This Mozart, with his coarseness and that giggle – oh, that giggle – is rather difficult to like, but Grodman also gets to play that man whose music is touched by greatness. He does a fine job on both.

Frechette’s Joseph II is amusing; it is he who famously dismissed Mozart’s opera “The Abduction From The Seraglio” with this comment: “Too many notes.” 

Constanze isn’t given much to do other than to put up with the child-man she married, but Yeager gives her at least a bit more sense than her husband shows.

John Iacovelli’s set is fairly simple for a South Coast production, but it’s augmented by a few period pieces that nicely set the time period. Alex Jaeger’s costumes look sumptuous. Lap Chi Chu contribute a complex and effective lighting design, and Darron L West’s sound design is effective as well.

“Amadeus” is still a talky show, but South Coast Rep does it proud.

The details

“Amadeus” plays through June 5, 2016 at South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa.

Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday at 7:30 pm; Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm; matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 pm.

Tickets: (714) 708-5555 or www.scr.org