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Syracuse Stage’s revival of Peter Shaffer’s “Amadeus,” directed by Robert Hupp, is a thrilling staging of one of the best English-language plays of the 20th century, and it comes across online with exhilarating clarity. You’ll have to move fast to see it: Online “tickets” are only available at syracusestage.org through this coming Sunday. Once you purchase a ticket, though, you can view “Amadeus” at any time during the next two weeks, so I suggest you buy your ticket now, then come back and finish reading this review.
Mr. Shaffer’s best-remembered play, first performed by London’s National Theatre in 1979, tells the story of the troubled relationship between Antonio Salieri, a now-forgotten 18th-century court musician, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, by common consent the greatest of all classical composers. It is not, however, a work of history but a profound, deeply unsettling parable of the mystery of human inequality. Mr. Shaffer’s Salieri, a successful but mediocre composer, cannot bear to live in the same universe as Mozart, a genius who is (in Mr. Shaffer’s heavily fictionalized rendering) ill-mannered, grossly vulgar and unworthy of his transcendent gift….
“Amadeus” was a colossal success when it transferred to Broadway, running for 1,181 performances and winning five Tonys. Since then, though, U.S. revivals have been rare to the point of invisibility, partly because the play calls for a big, costly cast (Syracuse Stage is fielding 19 actors) and partly because Miloš Forman’s Oscar-winning 1984 screen version, in which F. Murray Abraham brilliantly replaced Paul Scofield as Salieri, was so memorable….
This version, jointly mounted by Syracuse Stage and the drama department of Syracuse University’s College of Visual and Performing Arts, whose students cover the smaller ensemble parts, is artistically successful in every way, above all because of Jason O’Connell’s performance as Salieri. Mr. O’Connell, familiar from his appearances with Bedlam and the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, is a burly stand-up comedian turned classical actor who is best known for his comic roles. He’s always had more in him, though—the excellence of his performance as Don Juan in the Phoenix Theatre Ensemble’s 2013 off-Broadway production of George Bernard Shaw’s “Don Juan in Hell” staggered me—and his Salieri is a heartbreaking study in malignant envy….
* * *Read the whole thing here.
The trailer for Syracuse Stage’s Amadeus:
Paul Scofield in a scene from the original National Theatre production of Amadeus:
F. Murray Abraham in the screen version of the same scene: