In spite of the fact Peter Shaffer's AMADEUS has played this city before, I can't quite accept calling this current version, which opened last night at the Music Box theatre, a revival. The author has discussed rewriting it in several recent interviews, and his efforts have resulted in an extraordinarily focused and lucid play which - even though it shares possibly 90% of its dialogue with its predecessor - is far superior to the original which opened on Broadway 20 years ago. The clarity of intent and refined power of the wordplay now to be seen eight shows a week rivals anything Shaffer has produced in his career, and argues forcibly that this by all rights should be viewed as an entirely new creation.
This new AMADEUS is darker and more dangerous than the original production - and the movie for that matter - effortlessly transcending its 18th century setting to taunt its modern audience with eternal moral truths and the terrifying and shattering results of accepting and facing them. The plot hasn't changed from the original. When Antonio Salieri encounters the young Mozart and is brutally confronted with the limitations of his own talent, and believing God has abandoned and is mocking him, Salieri seeks revenge on God by destroying Mozart. What has changed is the intensity of the profound sadness we feel as Salieri succeeds to his empty and damning triumph.
David Suchet, as Salieri, commands the stage for the full two and a half hours of the play, and leaves us only wanting more. The sheer energy and range of his performance is dazzling, the ultimate effect emotionally shattering. We laugh as he eagerly confesses the ironies of his life, sympathize and understand as he makes then breaks his deal with God, glory in and shudder at every little detail of his machinations, but we do not pity him. Pity requires distance and we have none, having by evening's end completely identified with his all too human and fallible portrayal.
If David Suchet's performance can be termed an elegant and masterful dance with fate, which it is, then Michael Sheen's Mozart provides the necessary contrast, combining social gaucheries, raw nerves, genuine innocence, and a wilful credulity in a performance as astonishing and incendiary as fireworks. Michael Sheen is an actor who confidently plays with human emotions, especially fear, as a cat plays with a mouse, producing audible gasps from the audience. He's still too young for us to know for sure, but I suspect, in Mr. Sheen, the theatre might have a worthy successor to Olivier.
Sir Peter Hall's direction is as trustworthy and insightful as it ever was. The production design of William Dudley is simple, appropriate and effective, and shown to advantage by Paule Constable's artful lighting. The sound design by Matt McKenzie is adequate.
People will be discussing this production and these performances for a long time to come. It will be recognized and honored come Spring's awards. And, rightly so.
AMADEUS by Peter Schaffer, directed by Sir Peter Hall. Designed by William Dudley. Lighting by Paule Constable. Sound by Matt McKenzie. Starring David Suchet, Michael Sheen, Cindy Katz, with Michael Keenan, J.P. Linton, David McCallum, Terence Rigby, and Jeffrey Bean, Glynis Bell, Geoffrey Blaisdell, Jake Broder, Charles Janasz, Robert Machray, Dan Mason, Kate Miller, Kevin Orton, John Rainer, William Ryall, Rocco Sisto, John Towey. (David Suchet will not appear at the Wednesday 12/29 matinee - Rocco Sisto will perform in his absence. Mr. Suchet will be on vacation 2/22 through 2/27.)
Theatre: Music Box Theatre, 239 West 45th Street New York, NY 10036 (between Broadway & 8th Avenue)
Running time: 2 hours and 45 minutes, including one 15 minute intermission. (Latecomers are not seated until 20 minutes into the performance.)
Audience: May be inappropriate for children 9 and under. Children under 4 are not permitted in the theatre.
Schedule: Tuesday through Saturday at 8 PM, Wednesday and Saturday at 2 PM, Sunday at 3 PM. Added performances Thursday 12/16 at 3 PM, Monday 12/20 at 8 PM, Sunday 12/26 at 8 PM, Monday 12/27 at 8 PM, Tuesday 12/28 at 2 PM, Thursday 12/30 at 2 PM. No performances Wednesday 12/15 at 2 PM, Sunday 12/19, Friday 12/24, Saturday 12/25 at 2 PM, Thursday 12/30 at 8 PM, Friday 12/31, Saturday 1/1 at 2 PM.
Ticket prices: $70 and $55. Wednesday matinee (and Thursday matinee 12/16): $65 and $50.
Student Rush tickets: $25 student rush tickets are available at the Box Office only on the day of the performance with valid ID, subject to availability.
Standing room: Available at the Box Office, only when the performance is completely sold out.
Tickets in person: Box Office hours Monday through Saturday 10 AM to 8 PM, Sunday NOON to 6 PM. (Friday 12/24 10 AM to 6 PM, Saturday 12/25 NOON to 8 PM, Friday 12/31 10 AM to 4 PM, Saturday 1/1 NOON to 8 PM)
Tickets online: www.telecharge.com
Tickets by phone: Tele-charge at (212 )239-6255, or outside the NY metro area (800) 545-2559, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Tickets by snail mail: Amadeus, PO Box 998, Times Square Station, New York, NY 10108-0998
Tickets by E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org