`Amadeus' Is Without Bile and Bite

`Amadeus' Is Without Bile and Bite

An AP Entertainment Review


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 success.

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 Mozart's downfall.

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 art.

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.

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