Amadeus, the 1981 Tony Award-winning play by Peter Shaffer, is the perfect cure for a Halloween hangover. The word 'death' slips from lips constantly, murderous thoughts plague the antagonist and petty jealousies lead to untimely downfalls. In the hands of the Maltz Jupiter Theater, between the macabre set and dark performances, Amadeus takes on a spirit all its own.
Inspired by the life of famed 18th century composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Amadeus presents a fictionalized account of the heated relationship between Mozart and his composing contemporary, Antonio Salieri. Salieri, who is only six years Mozart's senior, is infuriated by the praise placed upon the prodigy. Though successful in his own right, Salieri cannot come to terms with what he sees as God's favoritism to Mozart. His beef boils down to this: Why do I have to work so hard, when beautiful compositions simply pop into Mozart's head? Salieri decides to use his standing as court composer to bring about Mozart's early demise.
The play opens in 1823, thirty years after Mozart's death. Salieri laments over his own imminent demise as well as his role in Mozart's career trajectory. The set, designed by Philip Whitcomb, reflects Salieri's dilapidated psyche. A once grand opera house sits in shambles, a mess of grayness and crumbling architecture. A rising chandelier (reminiscent of the grand one in The Phantom of the Opera) signifies shifts in time. Never changing, the set is an ever-constant reminder of the sorrow that awaits both composers.
In stark contrast, Fabio Toblini's costume design is bright and cheery. In step with 18th century sartorial trends, the men wear jackets, shortcut trousers and stockings, while the woman don hooped petticoats and gowns. Everyone wears white powder wigs, a la George Washington. The colors are striking; vibrant blues, purples and pinks pop against the muted set. Expensive-looking embroidery sparkles in the stage lights, reflecting the wealth of the characters.
In a play about musicians, sound is crucial. Many compositions by Mozart and Salieri play throughout the production, and both composers take to the piano (a decrepit one in tune with the rest of the set). At the opening of the play, Salieri's howls echo in the playhouse, an eerie effect that mimics the acoustics of an empty hall. The lighting is equally poetic, dancing with the music like a ballerina.
Director Michael Gieleta is no stranger to the stage, with numerous theater and opera credits on his resume. Under his guide, the interplay of musical performance and acting fits together seamlessly. Though the operatic action takes place offstage, the music carries to center stage, a smart move that keeps the focus on the acting as oppose to theatrics.
Gieleta's orchestration of the relationship between Salieri and Mozart is masterful. Their interactions illustrate their differences; where Mozart is playful and immature, Salieri is composed and dignified. These differences are highlighted by spectacular performances.
Veteran Broadway actor Tom Bloom stars as Salieri. From first sight, Bloom conveys a sense of despair, his back hunched parallel to the floor. As we rewind back in time, Bloom stands tall and confident as a younger Salieri. Aware of his own skill, Salieri's aplomb is only diminished by Mozart's arrival. Bloom is in every way a scorned man, awaiting destruction at every turn. At the close of the nearly two-and-a-half hour production, which includes numerous soliloquies and monologues, Bloom is as committed to his character as he was from minute one.
Ryan Garbayo's portrayal of Mozart is an evolution. He hops onto the stage as a hormone-crazed boy and is carried off a downtrodden shadow of a man. His range is astounding. Unafraid to scream, laugh or mimic donkey noises, Garbayo inhabits the character with gusto. His portrayal warrants other characters' urges of "a little less enthusiasm, please." As Constanze Mozart, Alexis Bronkovic is a strong counterpart to Garbayo. Assertive and jovial, her love for Mozart is obvious, as is her frustration with his failing career.
Though not a ghost story in the traditional sense, Amadeus will leave audiences feeling haunted long after curtain call. The Maltz Jupiter Theatre handles this difficult piece with vigor, producing superior performances and technical design. We're sure you'll be begging for an encore.
Amadeus plays at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre through November 11. To purchase tickets or learn more, visit jupitertheatre.org.
*All photos by Alicia Donelan, courtesy of the Maltz Jupiter Theatre