Theater review: ‘Amadeus’ at Flat Rock Playhouse

MUSIC MEN: Preston Dyar, left, as Salieri and Nat Zegree as Mozart star in the Flat Rock Playhouse's semimodern production of Amadeus.
MUSIC MEN: Preston Dyar, left, as Salieri and Nat Zegree as Mozart star in the Flat Rock Playhouse's semimodern production of Amadeus. Photo by Scott Treadway/Treadshots

When one thinks of famous composers, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is likely among the first to come to mind. Peter Schaffer’s play Amadeus explores the man behind the music, but from the decidedly skewered perspective of Mozart’s jealous contemporary, Antonio Salieri. The show continues at Flat Rock Playhouse through Saturday, Sept. 30.

Nat Zegree gave an energetic performance as Jerry Lee Lewis in Flat Rock’s 2016 production of Million Dollar Quartet, and the theater is smart to bring him back to the stage. His skills as a pianist were on display as Lewis, but he amazes as Mozart, tackling the complex music of the legendary composer. Zegree embraces the lunacy that is required in the performance (Mozart is presented as outlandish and with a childish demeanor) but also mines the depths of despair and the demons that haunt the tortured artist.

But Amadeus is actually more about Salieri, the exalted musician who finds Mozart’s rapid rise to fame as a personal affront to his more measured success. Salieri is a skilled musician, but the revolutionary spirit of Mozart threatens to overshadow him.

As Salieri, Preston Dyar greets the audience on what he claims is the final night of his life. He takes viewers back in time over 30 years to tell of how he plotted against and poisoned Mozart. Perhaps it’s true, perhaps a lie. Salieri taunts the audience with the juicy details of his cunning plots and hatred for his rival. He is haunted by the awareness that Mozart’s music will become eternal while Salieri will fall into obscurity. “This was no composition by a performing monkey,” he exclaims at one point. “This was a music I’d never heard, filled with such longing, such unfulfillable longing. It seemed to me that I was hearing the very voice of God.” Dyar commands the stage for nearly three hours of epic storytelling.

A strong ensemble of actors fill out the other important roles in the drama. Michael MacCauley, Paige Posey and Peter Thomasson are all members of the royal court who answer to Emperor Joseph II, played with a gleeful pomposity by David Lind. Kaitlyn Frotton is elegant, yet fierce when needed as Constanze, Mozart’s strong-willed and dedicated wife. Salieri is aided by two “venticelli,” who attend him and supply him with news and rumors from the streets. Beth Kuhn and David G are the constant companions who help drive Salieri’s dark agenda.

The venticelli appear in modern clothes, also using their cellphones early in the play, alluding to a surprising modern setting. The valet played by Scott Treadway (he also turns up as Salieri’s comically silent yet stoic wife) and others also appear in modern dress, as well. Except for a brief Euro Dance Club setting for one scene, the rest of the show maintains its historical environment, which makes the choice to have some roles made modern somewhat disjointed in an otherwise taut and flawless production under Lisa K. Bryant’s passionate direction.

Amadeus entertains and reminds viewers of just how moving an experience theater can be.

WHAT: Amadeus
WHERE: Flat Rock Playhouse, 2662 Greenville Highway, Flat Rock, flatrockplayhouse.org
WHEN: Through Saturday, Sept. 30. Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at 2 and 7:30 p.m., Fridays at 7:30 p.m. $15-$50.

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About Jeff Messer
playwright, actor, director and producer, Jeff Messer has been most recently known as a popular radio talk show host. He has been a part of the WNC theatre scene for over 25 years, and actively works with and supports most of the theatres throughout the region. Follow me @jeffdouglasmess

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