‘Amadeus’ at SCR has an 18th century feel

Asher Grodman, Marco Barricelli and Liesel Allen Yeager will perform in South Coast Repertory presentation of "Amadeus," running Friday through June 5.
(Ben Horak / Daily Pilot)

He’s nouveau riche, a little too flashy, a little too tacky.

And his clothes say it all.

That man is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his look will be replicated for the monthlong run of “Amadeus,” Friday through June 5 at South Coast Repertory.

The influential and prolific composer of the Classical era is the subject of love, jealousy and murder in Peter Shaffer’s award-winning play, which will close the Costa Mesa theater’s 2015-16 season, and his wardrobe choices reveal his behavior, culture and emotions.

“He’s very common, tells dirty jokes, doesn’t have manners and is so coarse,” costume designer Alex Jaeger says during a break in fittings. “So it was the making of obnoxious clothing.”

An example is outfitting actor Asher Grodman, who plays Mozart, in a color combination of green and purple for a clashing ensemble choice. It’s a mysterious alchemy at work in the costume design for plays as clothing and characters must correspond with a director’s vision.

Jaeger, who grew up in the fashion industry and has done costume design all over the country for theaters that include Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Pasadena Playhouse and Indiana Repertory Theatre, had to first pore over his extensive collection of research books to find clothing sketches of the late 18th century.

“You don’t just learn about clothes,” he says. “You learn about politics, the different parts of society and the historical time when you do a period piece.”

On a big production such as “Amadeus,” Jaeger notes that it’s not possible to make every costume from scratch, so he first has to learn what the theater can rent and then work around existing costumes. The next step is to create apparel to coordinate with missing clothing pieces.

What resulted was 80 to 90 costumes for the show, and since a costume designer doesn’t make the jackets, pants and accessories, the designs are sent to the costume shop, where a team constructs, rents and adapts the clothing in a three-week period.

The play allowed Jaeger plenty of room to stretch in both directions, as it did for set designer John Iacovelli, who designed the stage with inky colors, a moat area and a forced perspective.

The plot begins with composer Antonio Salieri in the 1820s and then flashes back to 1781 Vienna. Mozart is a talented young Viennese composer and finds a rival in the disciplined and determined Salieri, who resents Mozart for his hedonistic lifestyle and talent. Salieri, consumed with jealousy, obsesses over Mozart’s downfall.

The set design for such a play could be deceptive, Iacovelli says.

“You think it’s flowery 18th century, and it’s not,” says Iacovelli, who will mark his fourth time in designing a set for a production of “Amadeus.” “Very early on, you realize it’s a ghost story being told in one room, so we wanted a feeling of a wrecked room in a palace. I wanted to have this room that felt like a mystery.”

To transform the space back into 18th century, Iacovelli collaborated with lighting designer Lap Chi Chu, who suggested that they make the audience feel as if it was in the same room with the composers. To do so, the creative team installed a chandelier above the theater seating.

Iacovelli, who has designed sets for nearly 35 years, has seen versions of the play that include a projector screen flashing new scenes, but he found the technological feature cold.

The biggest challenge he faced was to stay true to the story, he says, and he had to resist the impulse in adding too many objects and furnishings.

Though “Amadeus” could be interpreted as a spectacle, Iacovelli says it’s a very human play exploring a theme about relationships.

“We all recognize genius in others and mediocrity in ourselves,” Iacovelli says. “The tragedy is that Salieri was born with ears to recognize genius but not in himself.”


If You Go

What: “Amadeus”

When: Friday through June 5

Where: South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

Cost: Tickets start at $22

Information: (714) 708-5555 or visit


Kathleen Luppi,

Twitter: @KathleenLuppi