Review: ‘Amadeus’ at Providence Players of Fairfax

Envious skullduggery, a beautiful interweaving of Mozart’s music, and a fictionalized but fascinating plot are just a few of the reasons to see the Providence Players of Fairfax’s spectacular production of Amadeus. Peter Shaffer’s masterpiece won the 1981 Tony Award for Best Play and was adapted into a film of the same name which won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1984. This production was skillfully directed by Julie Janson and preserves all the excitement of the original. While Amadeus is not a musical, Music Director Kyle Keene does a superb job as he blends the music of Mozart into just the right places to provide a wonderful effect of time and place.

Dave Whitehead (Salieri) and Mike Rudden (Mozart) rehearse a scene from 'Amadeus.' Photo by Chip Gertzog.

Dave Whitehead (Salieri) and Mike Rudden (Mozart) rehearse a scene from ‘Amadeus.’ Photo by Chip Gertzog.

Amadeus tells the tale of composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri with a great deal of artistic license. For example, while there is some evidence of antipathy between the two, there is no evidence that Salieri had malicious intent. In fact, they may have enjoyed a relationship marked by mutual respect. Salieri conducted some of Mozart’s music, both during his lifetime and afterwards, and tutored Mozart’s son Franz in music. In addition, the idea that Salieri and Mozart were pure opposites—one a hardworking artist and the other a foolish genius—is not borne out by the facts. And, documents found with major revisions to Mozart’s work belie the legend that he completed his manuscripts in his head before writing a single note on paper.  However, none of this matters at all. The fictionalized Amadeus is a wonderful story and we suspend disbelief.

The play begins with Salieri (David Whitehead) as an old man who has outlived his fame in 1823. He speaks directly to the audience and says he has a tale to tell. The action then flashes back to the eighteenth century, when Salieri has not met Mozart (Mike Rudden), but has heard of him and his music. He loves and admires Mozart’s compositions, and is thrilled at the chance to meet the great man in person. He attends a salon at which some of Mozart’s music will be played, but when he finally does meet his idol, he is sorely disappointed. Salieri is shocked to find that the man he has revered by reputation is actually a vulgar buffoon who exhibits nothing of the beauty and wonder of his music. For example, at their first meeting, Mozart is crawling around on his hands and knees, engaging in profane talk with his wife-to-be Constanze Weber (Julia Buhagiar).

Salieri is a very religious man and cannot figure out how God could make a man with such genius but none of the social graces. Moreover, Salieri, who has been a devout Catholic all his life, cannot believe that God would choose Mozart over him to bestow such a gift, so he  does a complete about-face and vows to do everything in his power to destroy Mozart as a way of getting revenge against God. He pretends to be Mozart’s friend while going behind his back to destroy his reputation and his success.

David White (Salieri) with Debora Crabbe and Bobby Welsh. Photo by Rob Cuevas.

David White (Salieri) with Debora Crabbe and Bobby Welsh. Photo by Rob Cuevas.

The performances in Amadeus are exceptional.The ultra-talented David Whitehead as Salieri takes on a challenging role with intelligence and intensity. He realizes he is the “patron saint of mediocrity” and he can never come close to Mozart’s talent. He is plagued by self-doubt while at the same time he is unkind and unfeeling. If he feels guilty about his lack of empathy he then reverts to type. Whitehead’s performance is layered and nuanced and at times may be pitiable, but he maintains a cruelty that cannot be denied.

Mike Rudden (Mozart) and Julia Buhagiar (Constance Weber). Photo by Rob Cuevas.

Mike Rudden (Mozart) and Julia Buhagiar (Constance Weber). Photo by Rob Cuevas.

As Mozart, Mike Rudden is brilliant as an innocent genius who simply cannot cope. He is raucous and self-indulgent but never cruel. His music is mature but he himself is a child. Mozart can compose beautiful arias but cannot handle money. He has a complicated relationship with his wife and his father, but then he will break down and show a sweetness that makes him a totally sympathetic character.

Katherina Cavalieri is a smallish role portrayed by the incomparable Christina Massimei as an opera singer and the object of both Salieri’s and Mozart’s affections. She has a rich soprano voice that is nothing short of stunning.

The characters known as Venticelli 1 (Bobby Welsh) and Venticelli 2 (Debora Crabbe) are truly excellent as sort of “narrators” to fill in the blanks and keep the story moving. In fact, all the featured players do a fine job. In particular, Michael Bagwell as Emperor Joseph II is hilarious as he tells Mozart “there are too many notes” in an incredible opera that Mozart polished off in record time.

Debora Crabbe and Bobby Welsh. Photo by Rob Cuevas Providence Players.

Debora Crabbe and Bobby Welsh (Venticelli). Photo by Rob Cuevas Providence Players.

Patrick David’s set design uses set pieces and a changeable backdrop screen all of which focus on circles and semi-circles such as clockworks, ceiling design, and festoons. And, the actors move the set pieces seamlessly while a harpsichord remains onstage throughout. Robbie Snow’s costume design features rich brocades, bejeweled silks, and gold lamé.

The Providence Players of Fairfax’s production of Amadeus is a glorious mixture of drama and comedy and music that is truly transcendent. Please get your tickets for this profound and enjoyable experience. It is not to be missed!

Running Time: Approximately 3 hours, with one 15-minute intermission.

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Amadeus plays through October 15, 2016 at Providence Players of Fairfax, performing at the James Lee Community Center Theater – 2855 Annandale Road, in Falls Church, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (703) 425-6782 or purchase them online.

LINKS:
Meet the Cast and Director of Providence Players’ ‘Amadeus’ Part 1: Meet David Whitehead (Salieri) by Chip Gertzog.

Meet the Cast and Director of Providence Players’ ‘Amadeus’ Part 2: Mike Ruddent by Chip Gertzog.

Meet the Cast and Director of Providence Players’ ‘Amadeus’ Part 3: Julia Buhagiar as Constanze by Chip Gertzog.

Meet the Cast and Director of Providence Players’ ‘Amadeus’ Part 4: Debora Crabbe and Bobby Welsh as The Venticelli by Chip Gertzog.

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1550.gif

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One Response to Review: ‘Amadeus’ at Providence Players of Fairfax

  1. Bob Lavine October 2, 2016 at 12:03 am #

    Exceptional performance, with pitch-perfect interweaving of music and dialogue. Superb casting and acting from Salieri and Mozart to the authentic-seeming German chamberlain. A video of this production would be welcome.