By George Basler
To say Amadeus has an impressive track record is an understatement. Peter Shaffer’s play, first performed in 1979, won the Tony Award for Best Play on Broadway two years later. Three years after that, a film adaptation won eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
The provocative work features daunting monologues, a large cast, multiple scene changes and more than 100 sound clues as it tells a story of jealously, betrayal and perhaps murder in the 18th century court of the Austrian emperor.
Staging it is challenging for any theater company. For BLAST (Bold Local Artists of the Southern Tier) , it also poses quite a change of pace. “We specialize in comedy. Amadeus is a little different. But there’s nothing wrong with challenging the audience and challenging ourselves,” said Kate Murray, BLAST’s executive director. She is directing the production, which opens a two-weekend run on Friday (Jan. 20).
Shaffer’s work is a fictionalized account of the lives of composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri.
In the play, Salieri has made a bargain with God that he will lead a virtuous life in return for greatness as a composer. While he has achieved a certain measure of success, he brutally realizes his own limitations when he meets Mozart and realizes that the young composer is a musical genius despite being a crude, immature lout.
Consumed by bitterness that God has endowed this “obscene child” with genius, Salieri sets out to get even with God by destroying Mozart and humiliating Mozart’s wife, Constanze.
Murray has long wanted to present the drama. “It’s an amazing, award-winning play,” she said, adding that the film adaptation is her all-time favorite movie.
“Shaffer’s writing makes Salieri the ultimate villain who destroys this kid (Mozart), his career and his health,” Murray said. At the same time, Salieri’s charm and charisma make him almost likable and “brings the audience along for the ride.”
Salieri is being played by Jan DeAngelo, who has made a name for himself in numerous regional productions as a musician, actor and director. Local actors Erik Young and Marjorie Loughran are playing Wolfgang and Constanze.
The role of Salieri is “a huge one” that has been on his “bucket list” to play, DeAngelo said. One of the play’s strengths is how Shaffer deals with the difference between talent and genius, he added. While calling Salieri “a murderous obsessive,” DeAngelo can identify with the character on one level because “none of us are geniuses.
“Salieri is basically an insecure individual who needs applause and validation. He’s getting constant validation as a court composer, but he knows the validation is empty. It’s not true validation,” DeAngelo said.
The role of Constanze gives her the opportunity to play “a really great story arc,” Loughran noted. During the play, the character matures from a naïve, giddy young girl, who revels in Mozart’s off-color jokes, to a determined woman who confronts poverty and works to keep Mozart’s memory and music alive after his death. (In real life, Constanze had solid business skills and later married a Dutch diplomat.)
“It’s fun when you have a great script to do,” Loughran said, adding, “It’s great to work with Erik and Jan. They are both fantastic scene partners who are open to ideas.” Moreover, she said, she loves playing in period pieces, filled with fancy costumes and wigs.
Amadeus is a complex play to produce because it makes significant use of Mozart’s music in advancing the action. This requires numerous sound cues, Murray said. Michael Kane is doing the sound for the BLAST’s production while Gabrielle Button is doing the lighting, and DeAngelo’s wife, Shannon Roma DeAngelo, is doing costumes. Sets are by Sonny DeWitt, and Murray herself raided local thrift stores for props.
BLAST audiences will see “a great story with a great cast,” Murray said.
IF YOU GO: Performances of Amadeus will be 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Sundays Jan. 20-29 at the Cider Mill Stage, 2 Nanticoke Ave., Endicott. Tickets at $25 can be purchased online at cidermillstage.com or by calling the box office at 607-321-9630.