Happy 250th birthday, Mozart! The 18th-century musical maestro Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is being feted around the world in a yearlong birthday bash. Here in Sacramento, Mozart is center stage with arts organizations including the Sacramento Philharmonic Orchestra, the Sacramento Ballet and the Sacramento Opera. Sacramento Theatre Company (STC) joins the celebration with a production of Peter Shaffer’s Tony Award-winning play Amadeus, which later became the memorable 1984 Academy Award-winning movie.
Though staging Amadeus seems an obvious theatrical choice to honor the gifted genius, in some ways, it’s an odd one. The play doesn’t paint the most flattering picture of the birthday boy, but the story itself is as entertaining and juicy as a tabloid tale.
Amadeus is less a biography than a creative take on jealousy, obsession, talent, fame and fortune. The plot is mired in mystery more than music, and it focuses more on court composer Antonio Salieri than Mozart. It starts with an elderly, infirmed Salieri taking us back to the start of his undoing, when a young upstart Mozart invaded his world.
The story slowly unveils Salieri’s increasing battle with the dichotomy of Mozart’s social immaturity and his brilliant musical maturity. The play explores Salieri’s all-consuming jealousy and his eventual revenge on his archrival, whom he refers to as “the creature.” On a deeper level, it also examines Salieri’s disillusionment with God and the unfair distribution of the genius gene.
To succeed as a stage production, Amadeus must have two strong leads. STC has formed a memorable partnership with cast regular Matt K. Miller as the dark, conniving Salieri and Derek Manson as the buffoonish yet brilliant Mozart. Miller beautifully captures the increasingly disturbed Salieri in his posture, expressions and gestures, while Manson adds painful poignancy to Mozart’s playful antics. Both are sustained by a strong supporting cast and are tightly directed by Peggy Shannon.
This is a handsome production, from the beautifully detailed costumes to the minimalist staging of a royal court and concert hall. However, the play lags at times under the density of dialogue and the minimizing of the music. Mozart’s music should permeate the experience, both in the theater lobby and in the production, saturating your senses, as it did to the obsessed Salieri, leaving you with only Mozart on your mind.