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BWW Review: Round Rock Penfold's Production of AMADEUS

My overall impression was that the production was unfinished.

BWW Review: Round Rock Penfold's Production of AMADEUS

Round Rock's premier theatre company, Penfold, is known for their creativity and excellent production values, but their presentation of Peter Shaffer's AMADEUS leaves me puzzled on nearly every level.

First performed in 1979, the play debuted to rave reviews. AMADEUS won multiple awards and eventually the Tony for best play in 1981. The play was reworked for the motion picture of the same name in 1984, which garnered no less than 8 Academy Awards, including Best Actor for F. Murray Abraham as Salieri. My first experience with the show began some time in the '80's when I was invited to see the national touring company perform at The Paramount. Fellow BWW Austin Staff Member Joni Lorraine treated me to the show when I was a young parent and such things as theatre tickets were beyond my reach. While I remember a bit of that performance, the thing I remember most was the feel of the show. Its deep dread and ominous tone that has stayed with me for forty some odd years. The truly epic performances and beautiful staging was theatrical poetry.

Unfortunately, the Penfold Theatre Company has missed the mark on so many levels I will not list them all here. Most of the minuses are laid at the door of Director Liz Fisher. The night I attended, the audience was virtually blinded by lighting effects that were focused purposefully in our eyes. The LED lighting used cleverly to create a musical synesthesia effect malfunctioned constantly throughout the performance.

The bright, flashing colored lights made me close my eyes and cover my face with my hands multiple times. Billed as an 'updated' production, the entire production greatly lacked an overall theme. I strove mightily to see a cohesive thread, but failed to find one. Fisher had Venticelli 1 and 2 (Natalie Blackman and Sarah Fleming Walker) moving a loud, clunky set piece during much of their expository dialogue. Due to the noise of the set movement I lost much of their discourse.

Costumes by Aaron Flynn looked haphazard, flashy, yes, but lacking in theme or discernable reason. If only the rest of the costumes had been crafted with the same care as the 'opera' costumes. The 'updated' music composed by Michael Morét was flat out strange. Most of it sounded as if only a beat track was added. I'm not a musician, but as an audience member I found it rather annoying. If you're going to update Mozart, you should be prepared to wow musically. The set, by Gary Thornsberry was incredible, but his angular platforms and ramps were only used in the first act, so much of the action took place in the downstage area feet from the front row.

I was not only puzzled by all of this, I was sorely disappointed. Penfold's productions have always been leagues better than this. All one can do is shrug and chalk it down to post pandemic rust. My overall impression was that the production was unfinished, as if the audience had been invited to a rehearsal two weeks before opening night.

There were some excellent moments. There were world-class operatic performances. Miranda Marquez's Queen of the Night aria from THE MAGIC FLUTE, was especially amazing. She effortlessly sang one of the most difficult pieces of opera ever written. I also enjoyed Chuck Winkler as Emperor Joseph II. His casual superiority and obvious joy in playing the role was fun to watch. For what it's worth, this is my opinion only. Results, as they say, may vary. I know Penfold is capable of much better work, I'm certain their next production will be back to their usually flawless quality.

AMADEUS by Peter Shaffer runs at the Penfold Theatre Company at Ground Floor Theatre from March 24 - April 9. Tickets:

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From This Author - Lynn Beaver