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.

14853270_10154109825086588_736945808350606067_o 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.

14543905_10154098121901588_4941774481909449972_o 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.”

14853187_10154109784611588_590748411301152886_o Salieri is appalled to his very core by such an infantile display, but this emotion pales in comparison to the awe he feels upon getting his first earful of Mozart’s musical gifts.

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.

14724350_10208544638025700_1952437188577097247_n 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.)

14883612_10154109847276588_8658351511951210108_o McGraw (unleashing his inner monster child) and Tormey (effervescence personified) are at their best in the play’s darker, dramatic scenes.

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.

14940078_10154109844031588_1431073234004493547_o 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.

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Candlelight Pavilion, 455 W. Foothill Blvd., Claremont.

–Steven Stanley
November 1, 2016
Photos: DawnEllen Ferry


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