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Lansing's Riverwalk Theatre brings a classical music rivalry to life with 'Amadeus'

Lewis Elson and Jeff Magnuson in costumes as Mozart and Salieri in a promotional still for Riverwalk Theatre's Amadeus
Ariniko O'Meara
Ariniko Artistry
Lewis Elson (left) and Jeff Magnuson (right) play composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri in the Riverwalk Theatre's production of Amadeus.

The Riverwalk Theatre in Lansing is taking on two classical music greats in its latest production with a staging of the play Amadeus.

Jeff Magnuson and Lewis Elson may be playing rivals Antonio Salieri and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart on stage, but that friction doesn’t carry over behind the scenes.

Elson jokes that even though he plays the title role of Mozart, the play really isn’t about that composer.

"It's called Amadeus, but it should be called Salieri," he said.

It's called Amadeus, but it should be called Salieri.
Lewis Elson

Amadeus is an interpreted account of the lives of the two 18th century composers. Some may be more familiar with the story from the 1984 Oscar-nominated adaptation of the play.

Magnuson who plays Salieri summarizes the plot.

"It's a mythical take, in my estimation, on the relationship between Antonio Salieri and Mozart. It is a story of two men in different places in their lives, who are both very successful in their way."

Though he’s quick to point out that the work is more fiction than actual history.

"They were quite close comrades and friends and colleagues. This is a little different than that," Magnuson said.

Elson adds the story is also framed around an elder Salieri looking back on his life.

"You're basically watching the memories of an older man, and what he remembers about his past life, so all the characters that you're watching are his versions of what those characters are."

He says much of the play is driven by Salieri feeling inadequate compared to Mozart, and the moments when Salieri’s jealousy comes out are his favorite moments in the show

"He does love this music. He loves it so much, it makes him angry," Elson said.

Magnuson says he’s trying to play on that tension.

"My Salieri is based on a gentleman of the 18th century who has success, has privilege, has means and is not completely satisfied with that."

When it came to crafting his character, Elson took inspiration for Mozart from a more modern music icon, Michael Jackson.

"He was this young, talented performer who got dragged around America by his dad, and they grew up not growing up," he said.

Taylor Haslett and Lewis Elson as Constance and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in costume posing for a promotional still for Riverwalk Theatre's Amadeus.
Ariniko O’Meara
Ariniko Artistry
Taylor Haslett plays Constant Mozart alongside Lewis Elson, the production's Mozart.

Like Jackson, Mozart was a child prodigy who also toured cities and countries as a child with his father. Elson says that impacted how he portrays Mozart as an adult.

"You sort of meet this almost like man child who doesn't know how to really act in social situations, but he gets his own way a lot of time because he's just incredibly talented."

The actors also say music plays a prominent role in the play, even though there’s no orchestra on stage to play Mozart’s greatest compositions.

"You're going to experience the premiere of Figaro, for example, through our eyes. You're not going to see Figaro. You're going to see us watching Figaro for the first time," Magnuson said.

Magnuson and Elson say they found inspiration listening to Mozart's The Magic Flute and Requiem. Magnuson says all the music in the play helps the action feel more natural.

You're going to experience the premiere of Figaro, for example, through our eyes. You're not going to see Figaro. You're going to see us watching Figaro for the first time.
Jeff Magnuson

"This entire piece flows constantly from scene to scene, from movement to movement, as if it were a piece of music."

Magnuson says this is the most demanding and rigorous role he’s ever taken on, and he hopes that makes the audience feel immersed.

"I hope they feel something with us," he said.

"I hope they feel something that they believe, that is authentic, that is moving in some fashion and that they come along for this ride with us."

Elson says he wants people to enjoy the play, and maybe not want it end.

"I always want the audience to want the characters to come back out on stage."

Riverwalk Theatre’s Amadeus runs March 14th through the 24th on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Sophia Saliby is the local producer and host of All Things Considered, airing 4pm-7pm weekdays on 90.5 FM WKAR.
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