Theatre PReview: Rock me Amadeus

By Rachel Betts-Wilmott

With the downfall of popular culture it’s no surprise the majority of music today is performed by little boys in black t-shirts and baggy pants. What happened to the good ol’ days when showmanship–eyeliner doesn’t count–really meant something? What happened to tiger-skin trousers and three foot high pink wigs? No, this isn’t referring to the arena rock bands of the ’70s but the performers of the baroque era. As it happens, so is Alberta Theatre Project’s artistic director Bob White.

“Amadeus introduced a new way of seeing Mozart’s era,” declares White, who is also the play’s director. “Before it came out, Mozart was seen as a drab person dressed all in black, in a white wig. Shaffer created an incredible character who was essentially the first rock star.”

Amadeus, the 1980 Peter Shaffer play which was quickly adapted to the 1984 Oscar winning movie, kicks off ATP’s 2005-2006 season. Twenty-five years after it was first written ATP is taking a look at the classic play and giving it their own spin.

“I was sitting listening to the radio one day, and on came Mozart,” explains White of his decision to take another look at the play. “It really fit what we were looking for. We perform pieces by contemporary playwrights, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want to find contemporary classics as well. The great thing about it is it’s an epic. It’s this great story based on a mediocre musician and a great one–Salieri and Mozart–and their rivalry.”

The story follows the rise of Mozart’s young genius, as he constantly outshines Salieri’s plain, court-oriented compositions. Where the play veers from the popular movie is in its explanation of motivation. Shaffer took care to include a profound understanding of Salieri in the play, something the film overlooked.

“By the second act you’ve had a closer, deeper emotional look at Salieri and you see his hatred for Mozart is really developed,” says White. “You see Mozart as a victim, but there is still a sympathy felt towards Salieri.”

Amadeus is highly anticipated amongst Calgary’s theatre savants. Of course it isn’t just audiences who are excited, White himself is clearly looking forward to opening night.

“It’s very much a murder mystery. This great genius dies and you want to know is Salieri the killer, did he or didn’t he do it?”

So pop culture might be in a state of distress but ATP has thankfully managed to escape the culling. Amadeus promises perhaps the only chance Calgarians will have to see a real rock star in the near future, tiger-skin pants, wigs and all.

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