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Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus was a smash hit forty years ago in London and around theworld and was transferred into one of the finest films of all time, directed byMilos Forman. The play is still a going concern and the Shakespeare FolgerLibrary has given it a redoubtable production at its lovely theatre in Washington,D.C.

The play is ostensibly about the fictitious conflict between WolfgangAmadeus Mozart and the Italian composer Antonio Salieri in 18thcentury Vienna. The jealous and second-rate composer Salieri wants to destroythe genius Mozart in the court of Emperor Joseph IIand there is a rumour that he in fact poisoned him. Salieri is on his death bedin 1823 and he recalls what happened more than thirty years before that.

Salieri makes a deal with God (not Christ, he insists) that if He makeshim a great composer he will dedicate his life to Him.  There is no evidence that God was a part ofthe “deal” because He capriciously and unfairly gives the gift to compose greatmusic effortlessly to the giggling and dirty-minded Mozart. He gives Salieri thegift of appreciating and recognizing great music. God has a great sense of humour.

The lion’s share of work on the stage falls on Ian Merrill Peakes as Salieri.We meet him as an old man in the last hour of his life. He wants Mozart’sforgiveness as he recalls his youth, happier days as the toast of Vienna andhis crushing defeat upon the appearance of the child genius.  Peakes handles Salieri as an old man in a wheelchair reasonably well and then sheds his hat and robe to become his young self.

We see Salieri’s passion for music and women, and his frustration andfuror at being unable to compose like Mozart and losing his prize pupil to him.His anger is directed at God as his faith is shaken after offering so much tothe deity.  Peakes gives a fine portrayalas the passionate composer who in the end realizes that he has become afootnote in musical history as the patron saint of mediocrity.

Samuel Adams as Mozart has a silly, high pitched giggle, is a bit of adandy, a social boor and a foulmouthed composer who can write music as iftaking dictation from God. We see him as a braggart, always broke, in triumphand in despair until we witness his final deterioration as he is composing hisfamous Requiem. He is not likeable but he is a genius and Adams delivers him assuch.     

Shaffer portrays the people responsible for musical life at court and inVienna as out of touch boors. The all get bad press but they are entertaining asrelics facing a genius. Justin Adams is the Baron, James Joseph O’Neill is CountOrsini and Ned Read is Kapellmeister Bonno.

The Emperor (John Taylor Phillips) in his several appearances is mostlyclueless and uses his favourite phrase “there it is” to get out of everysituation and give us a laugh.

Lilli Hokama as Mozart’s wife Constance is tolerant, sympathetic and ambitiouson behalf of her husband. She is willing to offer her body to Salieri for a“quickie” just to get him to recommend her husband to the Emperor. A fineperformance.

Amanda Bailey and Louis Butelli play the two Venticelli (Little Winds),a sort of Chorus that gives us some information, a lot of gossip and rumours.

One of the pleasures of watching the play is sharing Salieri’senthusiasm for Mozart’s music, especially his marvelous appreciation of certainpassages. We are treated to snatches of music to whet our appetite for more.

The set by Tony Cisek in the beautifully paneled Folger Theatre consistsof oversized pieces wood in the form of parts of a harp. Given the subject, itis a superb set. The 18th costumes by Mariah Anzaldo Hale aregorgeous.

The production, ably directed by Richard Clifford had a slightlysluggish beginning but it picked up the pace and in the end provided a fine performanceof a modern classic. 


Amadeus by Peter Shaffer continues until December 22, 2019 at the FolgerTheatre, Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 E Capitol St SE, Washington, DC 20003.

  1. Lilli Hokama as Constanze Weberand Samuel Adams as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart during a game in ‘Amadeus’ (Credit:C. Stanley Photography)
  2. Ian Merrill Peakes as AntonioSalieri versus Samuel Adams as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in 'Amadeus' (Credit: C.Stanley Photography)
  3. WolfgangAmadeus Mozart (Samuel Adams) conducts his orchestra for the Viennese court inFolger Theatre’s Amadeus // Photo: C. Stanley
  4. Members of the cast of Amadeusat Folger Theatre (Photo: C. Stanley Photography)
  5. Samuel Adams as Mozart inAmadeus at Folger Theatre (Photo: C. Stanley Photography)
November 22, 2019

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