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Wednesday, June 14, 2006 | As the lights go down inside the theater, enveloping the audience in darkness, dim figures carrying lit candles emerge from behind a scrim curtain hissing, “Saliere!” The hissing turns to whispers of gossip about the composer Antonio Saliere and his possible involvement in the death of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

The feeble Saliere (David Cochran Heath) is wheeled out in his chair while he mumbles about death and life and Mozart. Resignedly, Saliere says that these are his last hours on Earth and wonders aloud how he will be remembered. Smug and bitter, Saliere says of course he should conjure up spirits to hear his last words, that no one will take his deathbed musings seriously. And Saliere does invoke spirit beings: the audience, thereby setting up a brilliant role for the audience as listeners to Saliere’s story of jealousy and injured pride.

Saliere becomes an esteemed court composer. He marries. He hears of the prodigal Mozart and reveres him. Saliere has a pretty good life; it seems God has listened to his prayers. And then, Saliere meets Mozart.

Mozart, this exalted composer, is brash, raunchy and, to his utter dismay, not at all like Saliere! Enraged, Saliere wants vengeance; he feels deceived by God. How could God allow such genius talent to come from such a sordid soul? Saliere continues to tell the how he became a seeming ally to Mozart, while bitterly arranging his ruin.

Some debate has been made of the probability of any historical meeting of the real Mozart and Saliere, as with Peter Shaffer’s much-loved play, which was the basis for the Academy Award-winning film of the same name. If you’ve seen the movie, it’s hard not to think of it during the play. But Lamb’s Players’ cast is strong enough to captivate. Heath is very engaging, he keeps the audience hanging onto every word spoken by his wicked, prideful Saliere. With a role full of long monologues, it’s a wonder he doesn’t trip up his dialogue, but he holds steady throughout the performance. It’s hard to take your eyes off him.

Saliere’s encounters with Jon Lorenz’ witty Amadeus keep the audience laughing. Lorenz’ smooth delivery and whimsical joy that never feels false or forced. Lorenz maintains that whimsy even as his long-suffering wife, Colleen Kollar’s multi-faceted Costanze, alternately enjoys his inappropriate banter and then finally becomes frustrated with his lack of responsibility. Kollar and Lorenz successfully add dimension to their characters and to the relationship of husband and wife.

Adding more dimension and texture to the story are Rick D. Mead’s perfect comical timing as Franz Joseph II; K.B. Mercer, Greg Good and Paul Maley as the Venticelli, who move the story along, much like a Greek-chorus, but with individual flair and better costumes; the always excellent Doren Elias as stern Orsini-Rosenberg and Jim Chovick as the benevolent Baron Von Swieten round out the cast.

The cast and staff of Lamb’s Players Theatre know their craft, and handle any short-comings (small theater space for example) with a creativity that should be acknowledged. “Amadeus” is engaging, fun and clever. Perhaps the theatergoers will realize what a gem they have in the little theater in Coronado.

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