'Amadeus' is really the Antonio Salieri show 

Through April 19
Mad Cow Theatre

Music today is nothing but overindulged children emitting empty ornamentation, with indecent lyrics that glorify vulgarity and vice when they should be uplifting and ennobling. If that's your inner monologue every time you scan the radio dial, you're a kindred spirit of the character of Antonio Salieri (played by Philip Nolen). Court composer to Austrian Emperor Joseph II (Neil Olcott), Salieri went from being the most famous musician in 18th-century Vienna to being mostly forgotten, thanks to a foul-mouthed, philandering prodigy named Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (David Knoell).

Salieri possessed the desire to glorify God through his music, but not the requisite talent. The emergence of Mozart, a crude, cackling coprophile who could casually reproduce and improve upon Salieri's painstakingly crafted compositions after a single hearing, drove a once-virtuous man down a path of jealous duplicity paved with debasement, madness and (perhaps) murder. In waging his proxy war with God, Salieri enlisted Viennese society, from opera director Count Orsini-Rosenberg (Brett P. Carson) and master Mason Baron von Swieten (Tommy Keesling) down to the rumor-mongering "little winds" (David Almeida, Chad W. Gneiting). Mozart ended up in a pauper's pit with only his long-suffering wife, Constanze (Sarah Lockard), to mourn him, but Salieri lived long enough to see his fame evaporate and Amadeus' immortalized: a fitting fate for one who believed "goodness is nothing in the furnace of art."

Written in 1979, Amadeus may be the title of Peter Shaffer's 1981 Tony- winning semi-historical play (the basis for the Oscar-winning 1984 movie), but Mad Cow's production is clearly Salieri's show. That's because Nolen, one of the best comic actors in Orlando's theaters and theme parks, leavens Salieri's venom with ebullient humor, quite unlike F. Murray Abraham's drier portrayal in the film. Knoell (seen in Mad Cow's An Inspector Calls and Major Barbara) does his best work yet here, but Mozart's flamboyant narcissism feels desperately unfunny in comparison to Salieri's punch lines.

Director Alan Bruun's recent concert staging of Sweeney Todd with the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra was a triumph; this show is handsome but doesn't reach that bloody brilliance. Designer Cindy White's set, an inlaid jewel box incorporating hand-sketched scene- setting projections, makes a fine frame, and the supporting cast is solid, especially the lovely yet grounded Lockard. But a confluence of minor miscues — an awkward slowness in the opening scenes; an overdone quiver of elderly Salieri's lip; an often-revised but still unsatisfying climax — conspired to keep me from achieving complete catharsis.

Missed grace notes aside, this is an admirable entertainment that even the "patron saint of mediocrity" would applaud.



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