The Hormel Festival of New Plays and Musicals at Phoenix Theatre gives theatergoers a rare opportunity to check out new plays and musicals in the works and to offer insight to the directors, actors, and producers on how that particular work could improve. With a range of themes and styles, it can be difficult to decide just what to see. This year, we couldn't help but go for a new musical adapted from a French stage performance about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's life.
If you expect a take on Peter Shaffer's Amadeus, you'd be way off.
It's kind of amazing what the performers accomplished in six four-hour practices. While the musical's content and the performances were still very raw, it was early to see the framework of a catchy, playful rock opera with a new twist on characters you'd recognize from Mozart's story. By keeping its French pop roots intact, it's one of those musicals that's full of pesky earworms that you'll be humming in your head days after you saw it.
Each actor in the 11-person production had to present multiple roles in the play, which originally called for a robust cast, a full ballet to embellish the performance in the background, and an ensemble chorus. Unfortunately, there's pretty much no way to get that grandiose of a production ready in the time they had (and with a script still in progress), but the songs were all there and strong. With some minor line slips and a few sharp notes, the cast overall performed the musical with passion, though they were aided by scripts on stage.
While Sean Mullaney played the title role of Mozart, his character, which is more of a modern rock star than Shaffer's giggling goofball Amadeus, bounced between a naïve, quixotic boy to a wailing rocker anytime a song came on. A stronger, more sexualized performance would've brought cohesion to his character. It's difficult to say if that's on Mullaney, his director Michael Barnard, or Atanas Ilitch, who adapted the play.
Two standout performances from Toby Yatso and Sam Wilkes, who played Gottlieb Stephanie (among other people) and Antonio Salieri respectively, were surprising and exciting to watch. While Wilkes brought power, intensity, and a great voice to Salieri's songs, which you can view in a video of the French production below, Yatso was an excellent and needed source of comedy in the musical. Both are surely names to look out for on the Phoenix stage.
Despite the obvious conclusion that Mozart was meant to be a bad boy rock star and Saleiri his foil, it wasn't clear exactly how most of the characters were supposed to be portrayed in this performance. The production suffered from editing issues that left some aspects of Mozart's life and character explained to death, while other parts were rushed through and glossed over. Adapting from the French rock opera is surely no easy task, but it'll be great to see this production in its full, gaudy glory -- if it's anything like its predecessor.
The best part of the whole experience came when the audience had the opportunity to offer constructive criticisms and praise to the creative team behind Mozart! While the chance to do so is unique, it did seem like the team graciously listened to each critique and actually intended to tweak the piece in order to make it better. At the end, the team announced that the musical will likely to be ready by the fall season this year, though they aren't sure where they'll first present it initially.
We're sure Phoenix Theatre would oblige.
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