The play Amadeus is compartmentalized much like a classical concerto, with its typical three movements. Amadeus transcends from brash Mozart’s boyish frolic and veteran court composer Salieri’s griping to a mix of comedy and pathos, then a dark and gripping ending of paranoia and despair for Mozart at age 35.
Zegree impeccably plays Mozart passages on piano, as a supreme bonus. He plays an electronic keyboard, housed in what is to be a late 1700s clavier.
Salieri’s obsessive envy, conniving obstruction and manipulative destruction ultimately thwarts free-spirited, eccentric virtuoso Mozart’s bold genius. There are many laughs earlier on, much pathos later.
FRP’s stage version under FRP Producing Artistic Dir. Lisa Bryant’s direction in many ways outdoes the 1984 film Amadeus that won eight Oscars including as Best Picture. It followed the play that was a hit in London in ’79, and a best-play Tony winner on Broadway in ’81. Peter Shaffer wrote the stage script with debatable historical accuracy.
In the movie version, F. Murray Abraham played villainous Salieri. Tom Hulce was daffy Mozart. Hulce unleashed his inner wild child, after playing reserved, normal Faber College pledge Larry “Pinto Kroger in Animal House six years earlier.
Zany Zegree is again hilarious on the FRP stage — to the Nth (nor Nat) degree. He reminded this writer of Hulce’s falsetto-giggling Amadeus when stealing scenes as another goofy show-off new talent — Jerry Lee Lewis — in FRP’s The Million Dollar Quartet last year. He spoke in a slow drawl as Cajun “Wild Child” Lewis, now often at uber-speed as maniacal hyena-laughing Mozart.
“I talk nonsensically.My tongue is stupid,” he confesses. But “my heart isn’t…”
Quick Zegree again moves with a Whole Lotta Shakin’ — acrobatic moves and brisk gesturing. We first see his vulgar frolic as a mischievous cat, wooing Constanza. He wears tennis shoes — among modern touches.
A special treat is once more Zegree’s rapid-fire yet crisp piano licks. The bundle of energy again plays behind his back while chatting, and even when leaning upside down. He is accompanied at times by recorded symphonic sound — in sync, to emulate Mozart in concert.
Michigan native and Indiana musical theater grad Zegree has played piano by ear since he was three. Based in New York, the frizzy-haired phenom writes musicals. “I like affecting people with joy, love, music,” he states on Facebook.
If they were football teammates, Zegree is the exciting big-play receiver zig-zagging through a rigid defense. Grinding runner Dyar steadily advances the plot chains, at times making huge gains for his devious game plan.
Mozart was baptized as Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart. Theophilus is deemed a devoted Christian, lover of God to whom the Gospel of Luke is addressed. Mozart shed it as a middle name, in favor of “Amadeus.” That is Latin for “love (“amare”) of God (Deus).”
Salieri reveals in many soliloquies that he believes God loves Mozart much more than him. He fears he will forever be deemed “mediocre,” and overshadowed by the innovative young prodigy. He declares war on God and his pet Mozart, concluding “the creature had to be destroyed.”
Dyar singes with emotion in such scenes. He is best when wrestling with his conscience. Salieri is a self-declared religious man in an era of rigid norms, punishment and atonement. His guilt showcases Bryant’s direction. When Salieri comes on to Mozart’s bride Constanze, we see Mozart standing in a side area but then sitting in a more remote spot. Thus Salieri only imagines Mozart — haunted by his oft-unsuspecting nemesis, as guilt seeps in and later slices into him.
Salieri concludes his cloaked torment of Mozart for a decade backfired, as also “I have destroyed myself.”
Rounder-faced Dyar looks more smart-assed and far less menacing than devilish-faced Abraham. Dyar likewise reaches boo-hiss depths. Yet he might drum up some sympathy, as a devoted toiler so overshadowed by what he terms that “spiteful, snickering, inconsiderate Mozart.”
Salieri grumbles, while Mozart blurts out his own condescension. In a pub, he tells Salieri’s two spies that Salieri is a “musical idiot.” He taunts sweets-snacking Salieri that “I have had more kisses than you have had cakes.”
Wily Salieri’s abuses his power with much cunning and patience. He sabotages Mozart’s financial and emotional stability. Mozart lacked what the much duller-composing Salieri enjoyed — many students, and thus a steady income.
Salieri controls who will tutor a princess. He eventually denies Mozart, nearly bedding Constanze (Kaitlyn Frotton) in blackmail but instead sending her away in spite. Once Mozart starts to get donations from masons to get by, Salieri cleverly traps Mozart into spoiling that himself with his opera scripting.
The setting is in 1781-91, apart from bookends of an elderly Salieri. Mozart (1756-91) was 25. The Salzburg, Vienna native toured Europe at age 10, and now comes to Emperor Joseph II’s base of Vienna.
When the two rivals first meet, Mozart one-ups Salieri. Salieri plays for Mozart a snappy but basic welcoming piece. Mozart promptly plays it from memory, but enhances it tremendously with a faster tempo and in adding many notes.
Indeed, “too many notes” is the knock on Mozart by the powers of the court used to simpler music. But this is like prudish James Bond bashing a rising rock band, in Goldfinger in 1964. Bond quips that drinking Dom Perignon ’53 champagne warmer than 38 degrees is “just as bad as listening to The Beatles without ear muffs” to block the loud noise.
Wendy Jones unleashes her strong singing voice as Katherina Cavalieri, whose attention Salieri and Mozart fight each other for.
Italian Salieri is infuriated Austrian Mozart writes in Italian the comic opera The Marriage of Figaro. It premiered in 1786 in Vienna. Salieri connives to get it soon banned there, for its anti-aristocratic tone as the French Revolution was brewing. Marie Antoinette of France was Joseph’s sister. In such ways, Salieri keeps Mozart’s works from the public and Mozart isolated and in the cold.
A side theme is how Mozart speaks up even to the emperor for his creative freedom. He sets the opera The Abduction from the Seraglio at a Turkish harem. Mozart argues “I want (real) life, not boring legends.”
David Lind portrays jovial, dim Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II, also the Habsburg (German, Austria) ruler to 1790. He is caught in the midst of the Salieri-Mozart artistic feud.
The stoic court is populated by FRP veterans Paige Posey, Peter Thomasson and Michael MacCauley. A stone-faced, uncredited Scott Treadway cameo brought the house to rip-roaring laughter on the opening weekend. Amadeus effectively spans a range of emotions — enhanced by FRP-quality period costumes, sets, lighting and sound.
Amadeus concludes its Mainstage shows at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; also 2 p.m. Thursday and Saturday, Sept. 30. For tickets ($15-50), call 693-0731 or check http://www.flatrockplayhouse.org/show/amadeus/.