Friday, November 2, 2012

Maltz Jupiter Theatre: Amadeus (3 reviews)

Maltz Jupiter Theatre opened its production of Peter Shaffer's Amadeus on October 30, 2012.
Winner of the Tony Award® for best play, this thrilling tour-de-force biodrama reveals the outrageous antics and brilliance of one of the greatest composers of all time, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Set in 18th-century Vienna, Amadeus portrays the flamboyant genius, as seen through the eyes of his jealous rival, composer Antonio Salieri. This spectacle comes alive with majestic costumes and timeless symphonies. This masterpiece hits every note!
Michael Gieleta directed a cast that included Tom Bloom, Traci Bair, Alexis Bronkovic, Jeffrey Bruse, Gail Byer, Michael Brlan Dunn, Ryan Garbayo, Leon Howard, Richmond Hoxie, Gannon McHale, Rowan Michael Meyer, Stephen Pilkington, and Ric Stoneback.

Hap Erstein committed a meta-review for Palm Beach Artspaper (you may need to scroll down):
At the Maltz Jupiter Theatre, which opens its celebratory 10th anniversary season with the play, Shaffer’s imaginative and, yes, inspired work shines through, even if the production is scaled down to chamber size and the lead performance feels muted and less larger-than-life than the playwright intended.
Tom Bloom has the acting chops for the role (of Salieri), but director Michael Gieleta seems to be reining him in, evening the match against Ryan Garbayo’s petulant Mozart. Onstage, I prefer evil to triumph, but here it is Garbayo who commands our attention, as the frisky fop of the first act and then as the moody, defeated soul in Mozart’s final days.

One of the production’s stars is scenic designer Philip Witcomb, who comes up with a out-of-balance, disintegrating opera house set ― paralleling Salieri’s mental state ― made all the more eery by Andrzej Goulding’s cinematic projections of the spirits that haunt Salieri
The Maltz production never fully soars, but there is still enough worth chewing on here to warrant a visit with Salieri and Mozart.
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
The thriving Maltz Jupiter Theatre has launched its 10th anniversary season with director Michael Gieleta’s stylized interpretation of Amadeus. Relentlessly dark and sonically muted, Gieleta’s take on the memory play doesn’t seem to be what Maltz audiences expect. Said one woman at intermission, “My friends thought there would be more music.”
(ed. - this is not an uncommon complaint at productions of this play.  A surprising number of people believe it is a musical.)
Gieleta and his design team take the idea of the wreckage of an old man’s memories as their inspiration. Scenic designer Philip Witcomb sets Amadeus in a ruined theater, a place sporting crumbling royal boxes, a collapsed harpsichord and slanted surfaces that become an obstacle course for the actors. Lighting designer Keith Parham keeps the illumination low, as if Salieri is trying to summon faces from the darkness of his past. Sound designer Steven Cahill keeps the music (and sometimes the voices) low as well, perhaps signaling Salieri’s desire to push down the memory of Mozart’s brilliance. The concept is clear, but tell that to theatergoers who struggle to see and hear what’s happening onstage.
Bloom is a crafty Salieri, a bit more haughty and less baldly dangerous than some of his predecessors in the role. Garbayo’s braying, giggling, lascivious Mozart is an unfiltered, energetic relief from all the stuffiness that surrounds him. Alexis Bronkovic is empathetic as Mozart’s wife Constanze, and she’s particularly artful as she parries with Bloom over Constanze’s bid to save the family from destitution. Thanks to her beauty and Fabio Toblini’s costumes, Traci Bair is a visually sumptuous Katherina, the soprano Salieri and Mozart have in common.
Shaffer’s Tony Award-winning play can be a wondrously involving drama. At the Maltz, though, that distancing concept makes it less easy to see the play’s power – literally.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
...the Maltz Jupiter Theatre’s production of Amadeus is a visually stunning and highly inventive vision of Peter Shaffer’s meditation on whether Great Art is divinely inspired, or even if God exists.

But as beautiful as the stage pictures are, composer Salieri’s war with God over the talent of Mozart does not reach its full dramatic potential here because it’s lit like an opera – meaning you can’t see the actors acting past the seventh row. Often the lights are too murky or they come from the side, leaving half a face in impenetrably deep shadows; eyesockets become blank inky caverns...  it’s fatal when we need to see the arched eyebrow, the curled lip, the anguished eyes of an actor for the full effect of a play to come across.
...director Michael Gieleta’s production is certainly worth a ticket, especially for the superlative look and feel of this lush yet decaying world...  Gieleta and his cast embrace Shaffer’s love of telling a story through theatrical artifice and heightened language...
...Gieleta’s mostly out-of-town cast soars, notably when Tom Bloom as Salieri and Ryan Garbayo (Amadeus) unleash their passion. The actors’ ability to communicate their character’s pure love for art — transcending Mankind’s pettier instincts — enables the audience to connect with these people and forgive Salieri’s envy or Mozart’s inanity.

Garbayo, in particular, is effective throughout making credible Mozart’s abyss of duality. In some situations, Mozart is a giggling, sniggering man-child who indulges in baby talk with his fiancé and makes self-destructive  comments to the stuffy power players in the court. Yet Garbayo makes us believe that Mozart also harbors an all-consuming love of music, even though he frequently dismisses it publicly.
Bloom has a tougher challenge because, title notwithstanding, the play is about Salieri, not Mozart...  Bloom is clearly a fine classical actor who delivers Salieri’s long speeches with a satin smoothness that reeks of a courtier’s cultured urbanity.

But the Salieri that he and Gieleta have created lacks a bravura dynamism that other actors have used to keep the audience hooked: a sardonic humor, an underlying anger, there are many possibilities. It is only when Salieri/Bloom lets loose with his visceral pain, jealousy and awe that Salieri emerges as an engaging character.  This robs the production of a crucial topspin. Again, if we could see his face more often, we’d probably see a more subtle performance going on.
The rest of the 14-member cast is adequate if not outstanding. We know this is a very sore point for the Maltz administration, but there was no need to go to New York for most of these roles.
Gieleta, an experienced British director of plays and opera, imbues the evening with a steady fluidity that never flags. He often stages motionless tableaus like an opera scene; but other times, characters slide in and around each other... indisputably, he has led talented creative team members whom he either has worked with before or knew by reputation. All of them gorge themselves on the opportunities to bring a fresh approach to such meaty material.

Top of the list is Philip Witcomb’s breathtaking set... The vision is augmented by video and still projections on the opera stage’s curtain, created by Andrzej Goulding... More than a nod is due Fabio Toblini’s costumes and Gerard Kelly’s wigs.
...Witcomb’s creation would not look half so impressive without Keith Parham’s evocative and intricate lighting design... But Parham’s overall lighting scheme from a pragmatic standpoint, endorsed if not dictated by Gieleta, looks precisely like the misbegotten lighting at most of Florida Grand Opera’s productions over the past two seasons.  We get it: Side lighting is dramatic... The idea of having people in near darkness speaking key lines and plot points might echo the poor lighting of an old theater. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t work.
Despite its faults, this Amadeus has enough virtues to recommend it, beginning with a chance to see a professional company deliver Shaffer’s brilliant play. The Maltz, in particular, deserves high praise for slowly scheduling more straight plays.. and applying its considerable resources and talents to projects beyond its forte of reinventing musicals...
Amadeus plays at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre through November 11, 2012.

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