‘Amadeus’ at CENTERSTAGE

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Under the visionary leadership and cultivation of Artistic Director Kwame Kwei-Armah, CENTERSTAGE kicks off its 2014/15 season in high gear with an epic new revival of Peter Shaffer’s Tony Award-winning play Amadeus, a baroque melodrama, featuring the lives of classic musical composers, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri.

Bruce Randolph Nelson and Stanton Nash. Photo by Richard Anderson.

Bruce Randolph Nelson and Stanton Nash. Photo by Richard Anderson.

Amadeus is going to start our season with brilliant style,” Kwei-Armah says. “It’s a rich, multi-layered drama that still has as much power as it did when it opened more than 20 years ago, and in the current culture that has everyone scrambling to distinguish themselves, the themes of mediocrity versus genius have never been more salient.”

Exquisitely and radiantly transformed by Set Designer Timothy R. Mackabee, every conceivable space of CENTERSTAGE is optimally utilized to create a grand experience akin to 18th Century Vienna. From the moment, the audience enters the CENTERSTAGE lobby, eyes and ears are immediately captivated by the voice of a picturesque opera singer who appears as though she just stepped out of the Enlightenment Era, positioned gracefully on the staircase above. Amadeus’ supporting cast members are intermingled throughout the walk ways, leading to the theatre, in canopy-framed, display areas, adorned in opulent costumes, complete with representative furnishings and accoutrements adjoining them. Mackabee, along with managing director, Stephen Richard, successfully immerses audience members into the Vienna Court world from the get-go, creating an impressive prelude into Amadeus.

Set in the majestic Hapsburg Court, Amadeus opens on a resplendent stage of plush blue, decorative white and noble gold with imperial gilded doors and massive, sparkling chandeliers, the aged and near deranged Salieri (Bruce Randolph Nelson), as the composer who unburdens his guilty conscience to the audience, recalling the arrival of the prodigiously talented, young Mozart at the Viennese Court, revealing his intensely paralyzing, self-destructive envy.

Nelson gives a virtuosic performance as Salieri, impeccably interchanging from tremulous senility to vigorous middle age. His transformations from bitter old man to the urbane court composer at the height of his fame are presented with thrilling bravura, and his descriptions of the beauty of Mozart’s music are spellbinding:

“It seemed to me that I heard the voice of God,” Salieri confides, “and, that it issued from a creature whose own voice I had also heard – and it was the voice of an obscene child!”

At first sunken-faced, disheveled and shrunken in a wheelchair, Nelson transforms in an instant as he relives his tale, turning into his younger, more upright self: a smooth, punctilious individual whose musical ability and poise have earned him fame, fortune and a respectable position at court. All of Salieri’s accomplishments, however, become hollow with the arrival of Mozart, whose unprecedented genius few at court are equipped to notice – except Salieri himself. He was forced to admit that the young upstart’s virtuosity made his own talent seem mediocre by comparison.

Salieri confesses how he relentlessly and meticulously plotted to obstruct Mozart’s progress, ultimately, in his mind, contributing to the demise of his musical career and, ultimately, his untimely, early death. Throughout Salieri’s narrative, he rants and rages at God: first for choosing a vulgar, potty-mouthed rapscallion to be his conduit on earth; and second, for allowing him to pursue his vindictive path to full destruction.

One of the highlights of this production is the contrast between Salieri’s anguish and the maddening frivolity of the young Mozart, superbly played by Stanton Nash, as a potty-mouthed, over-the-top, ostentatious infantile, squealing with pleasure at his own genius and raunchy jokes. As Mozart, Nash wholeheartedly throws himself into the role with gusto, mastering the high-pitched giggle and childish tantrums seamlessly into a portrait of a man intoxicated by his very own genius. Conversely, Nelson’s Salieri projects a bracingly honest mix of brutal calculation, wry humor, and visceral cunning that simultaneously repels and seduces. The juxtaposition between mismatched pairing of Salieri and Mozart: the one tall and urbane; the other, a diminutive and crude, is highly compelling.

Immaculately directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah , staged, and presented, CENTERSTAGE has assembled an exceptional supporting cast for Amadeus, particularly James Joseph O’Neill, as the imperious Baron Van Swieten; Kevin Orton, as the authoritative Emperor Joseph II, Jay Russell, and Lucia Spina, as the gossipy, two-team Greek chorus; and Kayla Ferguson, as Constanze Weber, as Mozart’s feisty and effervescent, yet nurturing, wife.

Bruce Randolph Nelson and Natanya Washer. Photo by Richard Anderson.

Bruce Randolph Nelson and Natanya Washer. Photo by Richard Anderson.

Splendidly interwoven with sublime music and declamatory style, CENTERSTAGE’S Amadeus is a magnificent, darkly amusing, historically rich, theatrical production: brilliant, lyrical, and charming — it is a monumental, multi-dimensional masterpiece, which is grandly memorable and immensely pleasurable to watch.

Running Time: 2 hours and 10 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

Amadeus plays through October 12, 2014 at CENTERSTAGE—700 North Calvert Street in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 332-0033, or purchase them online.

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