An AP Entertainment Review
By MICHAEL KUCHWARA
AP Drama Critic
NEW YORK (AP) -- Antonio Salieri was quite the jealous schemer, but you would
never know it from David Suchet's detached, juiceless
performance in ``Amadeus,'' the Peter Schaffer play being fitfully revived at
Broadway's Music Box Theater.
``I wanted fame,'' explains this minor 18th-century composer, rationalizing
his bargaining with God -- total obedience to the Deity in exchange for musical
What Salieri didn't count on was competition from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart,
the musical genius who outshines and outlasts him, despite Salieri's best
efforts to thwart the young upstart. The battle should be the stuff of spirited
psychodrama, at least in the hands of a skilled craftsman such as Shaffer, who
knows how to write with theatrical flourish. At the Music Box, where the play
opened Wednesday, it isn' t.
``Amadeus'' was a hit on Broadway in 1981 and an even more successful movie a
few years later, but there seems little reason for this latest stage production,
directed by Peter Hall, the man who did the original.
This new version, slightly revised by Shaffer, is an enervating affair,
languid and overlong as it builds to Salieri's total humiliation.
``Amadeus'' is almost a monologue, with Salieri talking directly to the
audience much of the time. Theatergoers become his confidants as he plots
Suchet, best known to American audiences as public television's Inspector
Poirot, never gets the malice behind the man's maneuverings. His unconvincing
conversational approach smacks of superficial social banter, cozy chatter at
odds with what Salieri is trying to accomplish.
A little flamboyance, not to mention a little soul, wouldn't hurt either --
qualities Ian McKellen and F. Murray Abraham brought to the original Broadway
and film versions. Salieri may be a mediocrity, but he shouldn't be without
interest and capable of earning a little pity.
The curly haired Michael Sheen has more success as Mozart, but then it is the
showier part. Infantile and arrogant, Mozart has a love of music that is
infectious, something the bubbly Sheen endearingly captures. And that's not
easy. With an irritating, horsey laugh halfway between a snort and whinny, Sheen
neatly balances the man's obnoxiousness with his undeniable passion for his
Sheen's extravagance has no one to play off, not Suchet nor Cindy Katz, who
portrays Mozart's exasperated wife Constanze as a bit of a cipher. Of the
workmanlike supporting cast, only David
McCallum, television's Illya
Kuryakin of ``The Man From UNCLE,'' scores as that dim patron of the arts,
Emperor Joseph II of Austria.
Shaffer makes the point that there is no correlation between goodness and
genius. And he does it again and again and again as Mozart tosses off one
masterpiece after another while his life unravels.
Salieri recognizes the man's genius, even if the general public at the time
doesn't. It is particularly galling to Salieri that despite his own popularity,
he knows that fame eventually will evaporate. It's a frustration that Suchet
never adequately portrays.
In the final analysis, this production of ``Amadeus'' is a revenge play
devoid of bile and bite, two qualities necessary to make Salieri' s final
comeuppance so delicious and disturbing. As it is, his downfall rates more of a
ho-hum than a satisfying sigh of the devil finally getting his due.
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Author not available, `Amadeus' Is Without Bile and Bite. , AP Online, 12-15-1999.