The story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's brief career in Vienna, as told by his now-forgotten rival Antonio Salieri, is almost certainly untrue in every way except for the existence of the characters and their birth and death dates. But since Peter Shaffer's original stage play opened in London in 1979, Shaffer's take on history has for all practical purposes replaced whatever the actual history is. In his version, the fruity, indolent, airless court of Joseph II is thick with most of the seven deadly sins. Salieri (Malcolm Tulip), musikmeister of the court, is the guy who's always gotten As through hard work and officiousness, while Mozart (Chris Korte) is a smutty, bratty simpleton in every way except musically. Mozart gives in happily to every kind of corruption around him,
yet Salieri whose passions have until now been roused only by sticky sugar confections is the one who is undone, by his jealousy.
Visually, Amadeus is even more thrilling than when it debuted. Everyone on stage looks like Boy George, and one realizes with shock that that must not have been nearly so shocking twenty-some years ago. But the bizarre headgear, costumes, and makeup of the late eighteenth century (and 1980s) are just fun gift wrap over a story that doesn't even need it. With Mozart's music providing the soundtrack, Amadeus as theater is an embarrassment of riches.
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