The Music Box Theatre, NYC - December 1999
Review by John Kenrick
(I know its not a musical, but it is so spectacular that I have no moral choice but to post a review anyway.)
Every once in a great while, a production comes along that reminds me why I fell in love with the theatre. I have just returned from a staggering production that literally left me trembling and weeping with grateful delight. (And no, I am not kidding!) What a wonderful, glorious thing to feel genuine awe in a theatre again!
Peter Shaffer's Amadeus has been a favorite of mine since I first saw it on Broadway eighteen years ago. Working closely with Peter Hall (the play's original director), Shaffer has removed the more melodramatic elements of the story to make this tale of man's outrage at the unfairness of God more human and heartbreaking than ever. If you only know Amadeus through the movie, the stage version is an equally brilliant but wildly different experience.
Antonio Salieri, the court composer to Austria's Joseph II. Salieri finds his faith in God shattered by the glorious talents of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the childish genius whose music has a brilliance Salieri can never hope to match. Salieri eventually defies God by declaring all-out war on Mozart, using his influence to shatter the foul-mouthed upstart's career. Salieri speaks directly to the audience, calling on us "ghosts of the future" to see him as "the patron saint of mediocrities."
While the entire production is exquisite, it is the shattering performances of the two leads that make this a historic event. American audiences know David Suchet from the delightful Poirot Mystery series on PBS. This longtime veteran of the Royal Shakespeare Company makes his Broadway debut as Suchet takes us along the multi-level emotional paths of this character in a performance that is in turns both understated and bravura a masterpiece of stagecraft that reveals some of the darkest corners of the human soul.
But Amadeus cannot strike true sparks unless Salieri shares the stage with a formidable Mozart, and this production brings to Broadway a young Welshman who redefines the role. Where others have played Mozart as a semi-adult with immature tendencies, Michael Sheen portrays him as a child prodigy who never grew up and is emotionally frozen somewhere around 12. As Mozart's infantile behavior and rash tongue wreak havoc with his career and his marriage, he gradually drinks and worries himself into a fatal illness. Sheen is nothing less than astounding, giving one of the most riveting and original performances I have ever seen - on Broadway or anywhere else. I will venture to say that, with only days to spare, the 20th Century has added one final name to the world's roster of great actors.
You've often heard performances described as "breathtaking?" Well, when Suchet and Sheen leapt into the soul-bearing scenes they share in the second act of Amadeus, I found myself actually fighting for breath. Here was that purest of theatrical joys - great actors and great writing tearing into the human soul. At a time when so much on Broadway is over-hyped crap, what a wonder to see mind-blowing, heartrending theatre.
Willian Didley's wondrous sets and costumes are wondrous are deftly lit by Paule Constable, making the cinematic flow of the script crystal clear at all times. Cindy Katz handles the many emotional shifts of Mozart's wife Costanze beautifully, and "Man From U.N.C.L.E.'s" David McCallum is perfect as Joseph II. From court officials to the deliciously gossipy "Venticelli," every role is in expert hands.
But in the end, David Suchet and Michael Sheen are what make this Amadeus one of the greatest events of my theatre-going lifetime. I was not merely moved - I was blasted to bits. I urge you, beg you to do whatever you have to and see these incomparable men in Amadeus. If you truly love the theatre - not the tourist kind, but the earthshaking kind - then this production is one you will never forget.