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Audience wins in Walt Whitman’s ‘Amadeus’

Chris Papas, a student at Oakton High School, reviews Walt Whitman High School’s “Amadeus” as a part of The Cappies Critics and Awards Program.


Noah Gavil from Walt Whitman High School. (Photo by Marcus DePaula)

Theater usually conjures images of chorus lines and Broadway, not necessarily Mozart or a sweeping aria (a vocal solo with instrumental accompaniment). Well, except when the play happens to be “Amadeus.” Walt Whitman High School offered Mozart and much more while telling the legend of an artistic rivalry for the ages.

“Amadeus” is the story of Italian composer Antonio Salieri (Noah Gavil), one of the most respected composers living in 18th century Vienna. Salieri’s reign ends, however, when a musical prodigy named Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Sammy Zeisel) begins producing heavenly music despite his juvenile ways. Salieri is relegated to musical mediocrity in the presence of Mozart. Salieri is scorned and sets out to annihilate his rival, ultimately leaving a profound and destructive mark on both.

The play is the story of two geniuses, each mad in their own way. Gavil as Salieri was superb not only in his character’s quest to decimate Mozart, but also in endurance; Gavil remained onstage for the entire three-hour marathon performance. From the start, the unrelenting actor turned a potentially dull lecture into engaging and gripping drama, and poignantly narrated the deeply emotional tragedy of a man consumed by his ambition. Toggling back and forth from civility to insanity, Gavil convincingly and passionately conveyed Salieri’s slow descent into madness. Cool, calculated and subtle, he made each and every moment that he was on stage count.

If Gavil was the legs of the show, then Zeisel’s Mozart was the heart. Mozart’s transformation throughout the production left him unrecognizable by story’s end. He turns from a brash young man with an endearingly eccentric perspective to a twisted, sick shell of his former self. Zeisel achieved both extremes of the composer, while keeping the audience engaged through the character’s drastic metamorphosis. He was equally compelling at making the audience laugh with his gags and his own contagious manic laugh at the beginning, as he was in evoking empathy and sympathy during Mozart’s somber, miserable demise.

The rest of the cast complemented the two main characters. Sarah Blush played Constanze Weber and conveyed the struggle and pain that must have accompanied being married to a genius like Mozart. The group of Venticello acted as one ensemble and kept Salieri and the audience apprised of important plot developments. Grace Laboy, Haruka Nakagawa and Emma Rackstraw each performed one of Mozart’s challenging arias with their stunning voices.

Technical aspects of the show were handled skillfully. The well-constructed set seemed to be a truly authentic Austrian ballroom with columns and dangling chandeliers. The live orchestra, an addition not typically included in productions of the play, excelled with Mozart’s intricate music. The only way to tell that the music was live was to see the conductor’s hands flailing just above the orchestra pit. Lighting created frightening and entrancing moods, which helped the performance transition during emotional pivots.

In the end, it was the audience who emerged victoriously from the clash between Mozart and Salieri. “Amadeus” is a challenging production, but Whitman’s technically skillful and emotionally charged performance would have probably been worthy of Mozart’s approval.

By Chris Papas, Posted by Mario Iván Oña  |  March 10, 2010; 8:34 PM ET
 | Tags: Cappies 2010  
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Congrats to Sammy, Noah, Emma, Sarah and all of my Whitman friends. I've always known how wildly talented you all are, and this confirms it. Wish I could have seen the show, but I was most definitely with you in spirit...all the way from Seattle.
Vicki Wilson

Posted by: wordsbywilson | March 12, 2010 6:21 PM | Report abuse

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