Theater Review: Amadeus at Walnut Street Theatre

Rob McClure is wonderful as Mozart in this seldom produced play

Walnut Street Theatre photo by Mark Garvin

It was with great trepidation that I set foot in the Walnut Street Theatre on Wednesday night for the opening of Amadeus. After all, this was the evening of Snowpocalypse 2011: The Reckoning — the night where, quite possibly, I might never get home again. But weather be damned, the show must go on. Plus, it’s hard to pass up an opportunity to see this infrequently produced play. So I pulled down my hat, temporarily lost feeling in my face (from the pelting sleet), and went.

For those who have not seen the stage show or the movie, Amadeus is the fictionalized last confession of Antonio Salieri, an Italian composer and our narrator. We, his “last audience,” his “confessors,” observe the destructive relationship between the erudite Salieri and the callow, brazen Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The elderly Salieri details what he calls “The Death of Mozart, or Did I Do It?” A story of how his brimming jealousy of Mozart’s genius makes him socially destroy and, possibly, kill the young composer.

These two men are the heart of Amadeus: Salieri, methodical and devious, and Mozart, spontaneous and vivacious. Their rivalry and friendship instigate the entire plot of the piece.

Rob McClure is wonderful as Mozart. He is delicately able to navigate the almost bipolar character. Often, he must go from moments of silly vulgarity to astonishing depth. His slight frame and impish inflections recalls Tom Hulce from the movie. But in his organic and impulsive movements, Mozart is his own. In the second act, Mozart must convince members of the Emperor’s court that the Marriage of Figaro is a suitable subject matter for opera. He explains how in life several people expressing their thoughts at once is cacophony, but in music, it is opera. It is a stunning monologue, expertly executed and realized.

Much of Amadeus takes place through description, not action. And most of this description is left to Salieri. Unfortunately, Dan Olmstead does not deliver. Though strong of voice, his Salieri feels bogged down by the written words. Slipping in and out of an English accent (and with his head almost constantly tilted down), he struggles to make the loquacious monologues organic or natural.

The supporting cast deserves special notice, specifically Ellie Mooney (Constanze) and Anthony Lawton and John Zak (the Venticellos).

After a performance of a new opera, Mozart asks Emperor Joseph II what he thought. Joseph’s response: “There are too many notes.” This is what I thought about as I trekked down the deserted tundra of 13th Street after the show. But in this case, I wish Amadeus had just a few more notes. Enough notes to equal the exquisite music it celebrates. And the individual performance of Rob McClure.

But. There it is.

Amadeus is playing through March 6 at the Walnut Street Theatre.