There’s not a lot of scenery in the N.C. Symphony and PlayMakers Repertory Company’s take on Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus, but what’s there nearly upstages the drama. Presented with the entire symphony on stage, with the actors working on front (and occasionally behind) the musicians, the production pays brilliant tribute to the love of music at the heart of Shaffer’s characters, but technical problems at Friday night’s performance made the story at the heart of the music occasionally difficult to follow.
The presentation employs microphone headsets for the actors to help project to the wings of the 1,600-seat Meymandi Concert Hall, which in the first act suffered from slight distortion and low volume. Even those seated near the stage, where I sat, found it difficult to hear the dialogue—particularly problematic when a great amount of the production involves fast-paced, overlapping quips and characters speaking in multiple languages.
The production reprises the cast and direction from PRC’s production last year, with the notable exception of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, played by Michael Urie from television’s Ugly Betty (Urie is having a very good week: It’s also been announced he has a new TBS pilot and will take over the role of Prior Walter in the current Off Broadway production of Angels in America).
Urie brings a flamboyant comic energy to the role in the first half, but particularly shines in the second act when portraying Mozart’s increasing desperation. He’s well-matched by Ray Dooley, who reprises his role as Salieri. Dooley nicely plays up the self-righteous, unreliable narrator aspects of the “patron saint of mediocrities” while giving him a sympathetic, childlike joy at Mozart’s music.
And what music it is. Even though the play stops for long portions for the actors to sit on stage and react to the N.C. Symphony’s performance, director Joseph Haj (who also plays the Emperor), keeps the pace tight enough that it doesn’t feel as though the narrative simply serves as an intro to the music. Grant Llewellyn’s conducting gives the music its powerful due—you can feel the ominous power to the Requiem or the joy of The Marriage of Figaro.
By the second act, the dialogue problems were mostly fixed, and theatergoers enjoyed an evening of great drama and great music. If the Saturday and Sunday performances address these issues, then this will be one of the strongest theater productions in the Triangle this year. If those issues aren’t resolved, then … well, there’s still the wonderful music.