'Wolfie' and The Lion

Saturday November 18, 06
by DAVID CUTHBERT, Times-Picayune

'Amadeus' cast includes theater student and theater veteran
Saturday, November 18, 2006

The first time I remember seeing Richard Alexander Pomes, his teenage energy was such that he fairly leapt off the stage. Maybe that was because he was playing Snoopy in "You're a Good Man Charlie Brown" and he actually was leaping off the stage.

Now, coming up on age 22, the University of New Orleans theater major is playing the wild child Mozart in "Amadeus" at the Westwego Performing Arts Theatre, Peter Shaffer's drama about the young genius "Wolfie" and his envious rival, Salieri, the Austrian court composer.

Kris Shaw, who's playing Salieri, says that Pomes "is like a hot nerve that's come unglued" as Mozart.

"He came to auditions with a confidence and cockiness as if he'd been thinking about playing this part for years," director Janet Shea said. "He's got acting muscles people haven't seen before."

"Mozart was like a rock star or a grown-up child star," Pomes said. "He was outrageous and way ahead of his time. It's very exciting to play and very scary at the same time. I have great actors around me I've grown up watching -- Kris, Stocker Fontelieu . . . And I really appreciate the way Janet directs. She doesn't interrupt what you do. You'll do a scene, make your mistakes and then she'll come up and talk with you.

"I've done more research for this role than I've done for any other part I've played," Pomes said, "but Kris has done 10 times the research I have."

Shaw -- who played Salieri in 1992 -- acknowledges that the Salieri-Mozart relationship "became almost an obsession for me at one time." Shaffer's play is based on Pushkin's "Mozart and Salieri," which posited that the older man had murdered Mozart.

"In reality, I don't think that happened," Shaw said, "although many people do. There's a letter Beethoven wrote where he said he didn't want to study with Salieri because he poisoned Mozart. What Shaffer has done is taken reality and bent it dramatically. What irked Salieri so much was that he played by the rules and Mozart, this undisciplined, fit-throwing, spoiled child, was writing music which was inspired, so far above anything else at the time. Shaffer's Salieri ultimately comes to feel that if his name becomes attached to Mozart's, he'll achieve some measure of immortality."

Shea's cast is full of local theater's young tigers -- Michael Tramontin, Scott Sauber and Joe Akin -- and one splendid, craggy old lion with a great roar, Stocker Fontelieu, a self-described "83 ½ years old," the city's grandee of actors, and still an active director. "It's the young guard meeting the old guard," Fontelieu said.

"I had never met him before 'Amadeus,' " Pomes said, "but I had heard 'Stocker stories' for years, so it was like meeting a legend. But he cracks so many jokes, he's just like another friend in the show."

According to Michael Cahill, Fontelieu's biographer, this is Fontelieu's 144th performance and the 645th stage production with which he's been involved in some capacity. He first directed Shea in "A View From the Bridge" at the old Gallery Circle Theater. He has since directed her in 49 plays, and now, 49 years later, she is directing him for the third time. Sunday's matinee performance will be 60 years to the day that Fontelieu made his stage debut in "Night Must Fall" at Tulane University.

In "Amadeus," Fontelieu is playing Count Orsini-Rosen-berg, the director of the opera, who forms an alliance with Salieri to ruin Mozart.

"It's not a large part," Fontelieu said, "but I get a very dramatic scene where I tear up a score, throw it up in the air and it rains down like confetti. I would have done the play for that scene alone."

As for his forthcoming biography (which Fontelieu wanted to call "Who the Hell is Stocker Fontelieu?"), the actor said, "I'm proud of it. Michael has done such a thorough research job, I read it and say, 'I've done all that?'

"But the important thing is -- I'm still doing it."