Theater in Montrose

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Magic Circle Players 

Score Big With Amadeus

Okay, let’s be fair. 

After years of sometimes brilliant, often intriguing and always entertaining community theater in Telluride and Ouray, I’d become rather insular. I’d developed an unsubstantiated opinion that our small mountain towns offered the best chance of quality theater in the region.

Added to that there’s both tourist towns’ liberal distaste for Delta/Montrose‘s Trump/Boebert boosterism, particularly after a Delta jury thumbed their nose at Telluride citizens’ protecting their community gateway by arbitrarily doubling the cost of saving/condemning the Valley Floor to $50 million — twice what it had been appraised at. 

For me and others, opinion had become more like a full-fledged bias. Artistic as well as political. In all my 43 years on the Western Slope, I’d never gone to see a single play in Montrose. 

Kind of embarrassing actually for a former newspaper theater critic, son of a California community theater star, and one-time usher at the Schubert Theater in New Haven. 

Then, last month I heard a Colorado Public Radio interview with castmembers and organizers of the all-volunteer Magic Circle Players of Montrose. Started in 1959, MCP is a repertoire theater company that has been putting on plays for 63 years. On the air, one of their spokespeople made the claim that MCP shows were the best community theater on the Western Slope. It sounded like hubris. I resolved to go see for myself.

Plus, the current show that was just winding up its run was Amadeus. I had missed the original play. And the movie. It’s been on my to-do list forever. Since that hadn’t happened. I enlisted a friend from Hotchkiss to join me. We attended the finale performance of the late Brit playwright and screenwriter Peter Shaffer’s best known work, which had been awarded five Tonys for the stage play (1980) and eight Oscars for the movie (1984).

A period piece set in 18th Century Vienna, the play is a nuanced struggle between sloppy brilliant Good and clever mediocre Evil, the composer Saltieri we’ve never heard of and the composer Mozart we all love. I figured I’d go and see if MCP could pull off the conceit of this recent classic and make it believable and engaging –- especially as I was very interested in the story and I had not seen previous interpretations.

Well, to be honest, it was not only believable and engaging, it was terrific! I was blown away. In no small part because of really extraordinary lead actors. 

M.A. Smith was our Virgil on this Dantean descent into the hell of fame, jealousy, intrigue and betrayal, superbly re-creating Antonio Salieri for us. His foil — the babbling, immature and outre boy genius Wolfgang Mozart, excellently played by Everett Gregory — made us laugh, cringe and listen in awe to bits of his musical classics. Both gave dazzling performances.

Unfortunately, community theater is well-known for tolerating weak links in its productions. Hard to get professional quality acting out of volunteer thespians. But that’s just what Director Kathy Murdoch flat out did. 

Gary Hokit owned the charmingly stuffy (and dare I say witless — “There it is!” — or at least out-matched) Joseph II, Emperor of Austria. Janel Culver did a marvelous turn as Constanze Weber, Mozart’s wife. One could call each name on the playbill list and laud their very convincing performances, all in character, all audibly enunciating, all well-acted. 

Add to that a chorus that doubled as audiences, servants, crowds and crew, moving the delightfully minimalist set pieces in and out and making visible costume changes on stage in a marvelous choreography of inobtrusive staging.

In the second act I got to move from the back row to the front row. Up close I marveled at how well everything in the production worked. 

The ornate backdrop doubled cleverly as a screen where royal chambers and other relevant scenes were projected from the rear, giving an effective illusion of set changes. The costumes were lavish, well-made and appropriate. The tech, the lighting, the sound. 

Perhaps my one quibble might have been seeing upfront Gregory’s discrete headset microphone visibly scotch-taped to his cheek. But hardly significant.

Just about everything about MCP’s production was so well done that this one teensy faux pax was easily offset by the effective voicing the headsets provided the primary castmembers. 

A standing ovation from the large crowd in the 225 seat MCP theater validated the excellence of the evening.

Magic Circle Players, bravo! 

I’m definitely planning to go back to see more MCP shows. Particularly any in which Smith or Gregory star, or where Murdoch directs. 

Next up in early December is MCP’s Readers Theater offering: Miracle on 34th St. –- a script reading in the guise of a live radio play. 

Arturo Buen Tiempo

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