Theater & Dance
Review
"Amadeus"

By: Peter Shaffer
Produced by: Hillbarn Theatre
Featuring: Jerry Lloyd as Salieri, Ross Neuenfeldt as Mozart, and Lauren Rhodes as Constanze. Also, Jennifer Ellington, Jessamy Collier, LeighAnn Cannon, Ray D’Ambrosio, Robert Fairless, Ron Lopez Jr., Scott Stanley, Steven Anthony, and Tom Bleecker
Directed by: Leslie Lloyd
When: January 22 through February 5, 2015; 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays
Where: Hillbarn Theatre, 1285 East Hillsdale Boulevard, Foster City, California
Tickets: $23-$42. Call 650-349-6411, extension 2; or visit www.hillbarntheatre.org

Jerry Lloyd
Mark and Tracy Photography / Hillbarn Theatre
Jerry Lloyd as Salieri is stunned by the excellence and beauty of the first-draft music written by Mozart in "Amadeus," staged by Hillbarn Theatre. The Peter Shaffer play runs January 22 through February 8, 2015.
Hillbarn Theatre stages
Peter Shaffer's 'Amadeus'
Uneven production helped by three excellent principal performers who make it worth seeing
January 26, 2015

Peter Shaffer's magnificent "Amadeus" is getting a respectable and enjoyable production at Hillbarn Theatre, a show sparked by three excellent principal performances.

It is Salieri's story, really, and Jerry Lloyd is powerful in the role of the man who was just talented enough to perceive Mozart's greatness, and selfish enough to resent it.

Ross Neuenfeldt is brilliant as Mozart, bringing Shaffer's vision to life in a man who is childish both in his arrogance and in how easily he is hurt by the smallest slight. And who is quite correct when he makes claims about the greatness of his music.

And Lauren Rhodes is an excellent Constanze, bring an enormous range of emotion to the role, from romantic silliness to harsh, housewife pragmatism to real tragedy.

Lauren Rhodes
Mark and Tracy Photography / Hillbarn Theatre
Lauren Rhodes as Constanze, pregnant and fretting while Ross Neuenfeldt as Mozart composes behind her in "Amadeus."

The play opens with Salieri being partly rolled down a ramp and left there, as — on Saturday night at least — Hillbarn Executive Director Dan Demers came out to announced that a matching grant had been offered, and to encourage the audience to donate. So there is Demers, in a nice, modern suit, with the two Venticelli in full 16th-century garb, looking a bit confused and trying to make it look like this had all been planned. And maybe it had been, who knows?

Once Demers — enlisting the help of the two Venticelli (Steven Anthony and Ron Lopez Jr.) — had made his speech and pointed out the exit, and then departed, Salieri rolls rapidly down the ramp toward the audience.

He announces that it is November of 1823, and he is there to implore an invisible audience of "ghosts of the distant future" to show themselves, and to serve as his confessor on this, the last night of his life. He intends, he eventually says, to kill himself.

But first, Lloyd transforms himself from the doddering old man into the younger, stronger Salieri, to tell the tale of his relationship with God and with Mozart, and to confess his guilt for having killed Mozart.

Salieri has devoted himself to music, and has enjoyed considerable success. He devotes his music to God, and prays that God will send his music through him. He's proper, stiff, a success at court in Vienna.

Then he meets Mozart, whose behavior is quite coarse. Salieri loves Mozart's music and hears God in it, but is outraged that God is using this rude, childish man to deliver the music.

The trick of this, and the many ironies involved, spring from the fact that Salieri does know music, and is fully aware of Mozart's brilliance. In Shaffer's telling of the story, Salieri undertakes to ruin God's choice, Mozart.

The play, which was a huge success on stage, then as a movie, has been rewritten a couple of times since the movie, and the rich story is now even more compelling.

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There are many themes in the play — the inability of managers (emperors or CEOs) to recognize brilliance and give it its due, the jealousy of the mediocre in the face of the talented, the relationship of creative gifts to God, the responsibility of the talented to make the most of their gifts.

Director Leslie Lloyd (wife of her leading man) and Hillbarn have done a nice job in delivering the meat of Shaffer's brilliance to this production, thanks largely to the three principals.

The rest of the cast members, while certainly earnest of effort and in a couple of cases charming, never rise to the standard of Lloyd, Neuenfeldt and Rhodes.

I was amused by Anthony and Lopez as the two Verticelli, who arrive to announce things, first one after the other, then together, and I especially enjoyed Lopez's voice, which is rather rich, and both delivered lines with an appropriate social cattiness. But, there were occasional flubbed lines, which does not help.

When I spoke with director Leslie Lloyd a week or so ago, she said the music is practically a character in the play — which is certainly true. But the night I saw it, at least, the recorded tracks never seemed loud enough, and fidelity was lacking. I don't know what resources are available to sound designer Jon Hayward, but it would be useful to this show if the music was presented more forcefully.

Scenic designer Kuo-Hao Lo, who has frequently done brilliant work at Hillbarn and elsewhere, seems to have finally come to terms with Hillbarn's new proscenium arch, with a set that serves very well as the court and a few other locations. And — finally — the floor was painted for this show, instead of being just the plain concrete of some earlier shows. (I think it was supposed to look like marble, which it doesn't; it looks more like the ocean seen from great height, but it is an improvement, whatever it is.)

Costumes by Lisa Claybaugh, drawn from the stores of Hillbarn, TheatreWorks, City Lights and A.C.T., were beautiful, right down to the details of most shoes. The gold numbers worn by Ray D'Ambrosio as Emperor Joseph II were particularly fun, bringing to mind elves and leprechauns. Oddly, Salieri's shoes looked to my uneducated eye like something from any modern shoe store.

Lloyd used Salieri's fancy coat tails to great effect, using them as punctuation to help deliver various forceful lines.

I was amused by how Neuenfeldt looked when wearing his blond court wig —- it made him look almost exactly like Derek Trucks, the Mozart of slide guitar.

"Amadeus" is an ambitious undertaking, and the three principals really make it worth seeing. Hillbarn Theatre continues to dare. It's good to see that bravery.

Email John Orr at johnorr@regardingarts.com

Ross Neuenfeldt
Mark and Tracy Photography / Hillbarn Theatre
Ross Neuenfeldt as Mozart, conducting one of his operas, in "Amadeus," staged by Hillbarn Theatre. The Peter Shaffer play runs January 22 through February 8, 2015.


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