Arts and Culture

What Strollers Theatre's ‘Amadeus' has to say about the late genius

Like Mozart was a pool shark and crass comedian

Sean Langenecker, who‘ll play the role of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in Strollers Theatre’s upcoming production of “Amadeus,” is a lifelong admirer of the famed composer—and of Peter Shaffer’s 1979 play, which was the basis of the 1984 Oscar-winning film. In fact, “Amadeus” is one of the plays that inspired Langenecker to pursue acting. He first saw it produced by the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre when he was 17. 

“I remember thinking, ‘I want to do that,’” says Langenecker, who’ll coincidentally turn 35 the week the play opens—the same age Mozart was when he died. “We should all grow up to be Mozart, right?”

As he’s prepped his character, Langenecker’s been determined not to become lost in the legend.

“Mozart’s a fantastic talent, but he just wants to be loved,” he says. “The key is to take away all that legend, the gigantic idea of what Mozart would become, and make him a person who can hurt and can love.”

But that’s not the only Mozart-ian insight Langenecker’s gained. Here are three others that struck him.

Are You There, God? It’s Me, Salieri
There’s a reason playwright Peter Shaffer called his work “Amadeus” and not, say, “Mozart.” In Latin, the word “Amadeus” translates as “Beloved of God.” And the fact that Mozart—an uncouth youth with a penchant for gambling and spending beyond his means—could somehow be God’s chosen vessel of transcendent classical music rankles fellow composer Antonio Salieri (played by Matt Korda) more than Kellyanne Conway rankles Anderson Cooper.

Throughout the play, Korda’s character has one-sided diatribes with the Almighty about the subject.

“I’ve never really made that connection before, how people would process that he’s the one to bring that music into the world,” says Langenecker of his character. “To me, the relationship between these composers and their god is the thrust of the play. Shaffer chose his title very intentionally.”

(Side note: Salieri’s assumption that God somehow only chooses honorable vessels on which to bestow his gifts sounds an awful lot like certain modern politicians arguing that those who live good lives don’t get pre-existing conditions. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, or “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”)

Six-ball in the side pocket
In addition to having a natural ability to construct perfect arias seemingly out of thin air, Mozart was also gifted with the skill to execute some serious one-two corner-pocket combos (seriously—look it up). His penchant for gambling on billiards—or rather, his penchant for spending his winnings in wildly wanton fashion—is one of the reasons the great composer died virtually penniless.

“Music and billiards are both mathematical,” Langenecker muses. “He was able to hear music in his head. Maybe he could calculate angles in his head, too.” 

OMG, the man was crass
Admittedly, the flatulence jokes and scatological humor in the play—Mozart lets one rip in front of the Emperor, for example—don’t rise to the modern standards we’ve come to expect from a “South Park" episode or the new “Baywatch” movie. But in his time, Mozart’s crass behavior was both blunt and shocking.

Apparently, crassness was a family trait. Both of Mozart’s parents were given to busting out uncouth jokes around the house and in their correspondence. During production prep, director Kathleen Tissot asked Langenecker to lean into his character’s ribald behavior.

No problem, he said.

“I know I need to honor that aspect of the play,” says Langenecker, noting that “Amadeus” is a memory play told entirely from Salieri’s perspective. “Shaffer made Mozart disgusting in Salieri’s eyes, and I’m trying to embrace that.”

Strollers’ production of “Amadeus" runs June 2-17 in the Bartell Theater. For ticket information, click here.

Aaron R. Conklin writes his award-winning theater coverage for madisonmagazine.com.


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