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Wilma Theater's Amadeus: Salieri's Mozart

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While the play is surrounded by the hauntingly beautiful music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, it is the very illustrious Court Composer Antonio Salieri who fills the stage with shrouded suspension and has the audience exactly where he wants them from start to finish.

Director Jiri Zizka and his creative team have taken this production to a new level. The sets and staging are strikingly strange. Stark white sheets cascading over the theater walls and ceiling, spotted with glaring eyes, black and white card board like chandeliers bound by cobwebs, huge swirling mounds of black curly hair painted against the stark white backdrop; like a mad dream. 

A solitary soul sits motionless in a wheel chair as two ghostlike, cloaked  gents scurry back and forth like two rushing "little winds" of buzzing gossip, which is exactly who they are. In the background veiled figures whisper louder and louder, Salieri! Salieri! thus taking us under the spell of Amadeus.

The story is dramatically narrated by a magnificent performance by Dean Nolan as Antonio Salieri, the composer of the Court who invites us into his mind to recreate his story of the young ambitious man who enters his world altering everything in Salieri's ambitious life, like a whirlwind, then disappears in a short time reducing Salieri to a bitter, remorseful, half senile, broken man. Nolan transforms himself back and forth from old to young with feeble hoarse cries of a desperate has- been writer of music seeking approval from his peers and his God, then shifting to a cunning, younger Salieri the egocentric composer threatened by the arrival of Leopold Mozart's brat, Wolfgang Amadeus; "the voice of an obscene child" as he's called.

Drew Hirshfield triumphs in this role of the child-like, brilliant, giggly young man who "records all his works in his mind and simply transfers them to ink and page"; a task that both amazes and infuriates Salieri, whose works quickly rise and fall under the fickle ears of the city of Vienna in the year 1823. Mozart presents his fresh new works to a stale old traditional art form and pokes fun at the Italian and European composers who reluctantly give way to this prodigy.

Hirsfield is surprisingly believable as young Mozart as he masters the musician's high spirited personality traits from arrogant, to endearing from amusingly honest and confident to extremely vulnerable. Mozart suffers from the disapproval of his father Leopold as he chooses the "wife of his heart", a young beautiful Viennese woman Constanze Weber (Mary Ramussen). These playful young lovers share a convincing chemistry between them  (Hirshfield & Rasmussen), which also becomes the focal point of the covetous Salieri, whose "statuette" wife is often away. Salieri 's plot is to sabotage Mozart's career, but is willing to be persuaded by the young composer's beautiful new bride whom he is hoping he will call "generouso" with her affections, to recommend Mozart for a position with the Royals.

The great mystery is partially revealed through Salieri who captures the audience as his "ghosts of the distance future"; Salieri, the confessor, the secret sharer, who never quite reveals the truth about Mozart's death. This is Vienna "the city of slander" in the 1800's who have embraced the gossip about Mozart conjured up by the "little winds" sent out and compensated by Salieri to destroy Mozart.

All the while, the music; the hauntingly beautiful music of Mozart soars and tugs on the heart from The Marriage of Figaro, The Magic Flute until finally, when a near destitute Mozart believes he is loosing his mind through a carefully staged ghost commissioning him to write a requiem, the song of death, but who's?

Costume designer Janus Stefanowicz bring beautiful gowns and brocaded gentlemen coats to add to the charm of the music and madness. But it is Mozart's outlandish costumes and multicolored wigs laced with ribbons that both burns the eyes and delights the senses.

In the final scenes, the chemistry between Nolan and Hirshfield is heart wrenching as Salieri realizes his pompous ambitions have  not won God's approval  but instead has made him the very mediocre man that destroyed Mozart life as well as his own. All the while the dejected young genius clings to Salieri, his friend.

Amadeus

Written by Peter Shaffer.Directed by Jiri Zizka. Sets by Robert Pyzocha, costumes by Janus Stefanowicz, lighting by Jerold R. Forsyth, sound by Adam Wernick.

Cast: Dean Nolen (Antonio Salieri),Drew Hirshfield (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart), Richmond Hoxie (Count Franz Orsini-Rosenberg), Christian Kauffmann (Joseph II), Russell Leib (Baron Gottfried Van Swieten), Peter Pryor (Venticello 1), Jered McLenigan ( Venticello 2), Mary Rasmussen (Constanze Weber), H. Michael Walls (Count Johann Kilian Von Strack).

Playing at: Wilma Theatre, Broad and Spruce Sreets. Through Oct. 27. Tickets: $37-60. Information: 215- 546-7824, or www.wilmatheater.org


Photos by Jim Roese Photography: Dean Nolan as Antonia Salieri; Drew Hirsfield as Wolfgang Mozart; The ensemble of Amadeus

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