Inland Valley Repertory Theatre closes its 2015-16 season at Candlelight Pavilion with a sumptuous big-stage revival of Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus made memorable by Ron Hastings’ riveting lead performance.
As anyone who’s seen Shaffer’s Tony-winning Best Play of 1981 or its 1984 film adaptation (winner of eight Oscars including Best Picture) can tell you, Amadeus focuses on the rivalry between Antonio Salieri (Hastings), composer to the court of Austrian Emperor Joseph II, and his upstart competitor, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tyler McGraw).
It is Salieri’s humiliating realization that his own talents are nothing compared to the genius that is Mozart that drives the far less gifted man to seek his rival’s destruction, whatever the cost to his own sanity.
We first encounter Salieri in 1825 on the night of his death at age 74, three and a half decades after his nemesis’s untimely demise at 35.
With the citizens of Vienna’s whispers of “Salieri” and “assassin” echoing in his ears, the Italian composer begins his confession to the audience, and we are transported back the year 1781, on the night Salieri first crosses paths with Mozart in Vienna’s Schönbrunn Palace library.
To our surprise, the Mozart we meet is not the musical savant we’re expecting but a pony-tailed, potty-mouthed man-child in pursuit of Constanze Weber (Tasha Tormey), his landlady’s daughter—giggling, meowing, threatening to “pounce-pounce” and “scrunch-munch” and “chew-poo my little mouse-wouse.”
Awe soon turns to envy, however, and the seeds of hatred are planted when young Wolfgang effortlessly transforms the “extremely banal” march Salieri has composed in his honor into something extraordinary.
Later, in one of Amadeus’s most famous and powerful scenes, Salieri scans a stack of Mozart’s manuscripts, and both he and we hear the notes Mozart has put to paper and realize that we are in the presence of genius.
It is Salieri’s recognition that his first impressions of the young Austrian’s prodigious talent “had been no accident” that cause the embittered Italian to embark on a path which will send each one spiraling down into his own particular brand of hell.
Under Gary Krinke’s confident direction, Hastings does masterful work as Salieri, taking us from feeble old age to the vitality of a man driven slowly insane with envy of the much younger, conspicuously more gifted Amadeus. (That Hastings speaks chunks of dialog in a quite credible Italian merits an added round of applausi.)
Some effective support is offered by featured cast members Darian Binkley (Katherina Cavalieri), Bryan “BJ” Brophy (Count Franz Orsini-Rosenberg), Thomas Cole (Guiseppe Buono), Andrew Flory, Stacy Hanson, Craig Jackman (Baron Gottfried van Swieten), Hugh Kinslow (Joseph II, Emperor of Austria), Kevin Manalang (Count Johan Kilian von Strack), Vince Polito (Valet), Erin Reeves (Teresa Salieri), Michelle Knight Reinhardt (Salieri’s Cook), Cindy Smith, and by “Venticelli” Dani Bastamante and Eleanor Hastings.
Opulent costuming (courtesy of Fullerton Civic Light Opera and coordinated by Krinke), enough big hair to do the 1980s proud (designed by Ken Martinez), and Candlelight’s Sister Act cloisters (ingeniously modified by Mark Mackenzie, with props and set decoration by Smith) give IVRT’s Amadeus a particularly professional look, complemented by Daniel Moorfield’s often vibrant lighting and Nick Galvan’s crystal-clear sound design, one that integrates Mozart’s Greatest Hits to powerful effect.
Hope Kaufman is assistant director. Bobby Collins is production coordinator. Erin Reeves is stage manager.
Once again offering East San Gabriel Valley audiences a midweek alternative to stay-at-home entertainment choices, IVRT has lucked out big-time in casting Ron Hastings as Salieri. The real-life composer may have been forgettable. Hastings’ performance is not.
Candlelight Pavilion, 455 W. Foothill Blvd., Claremont.
November 1, 2016
Photos: DawnEllen Ferry