ADVERTISING AT CURTAINUP
Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
Writing for Us
A CurtainUp Review
Man of LaMancha
By Elyse Sommer
Except for some trimming Dale Wasserman's history based play-within-a-play remains unchanged: The real Cervantes, an actor-playwright who supplemented his income as a tax collector, was imprisoned for attempting to put a levy on church property. This imprisonment frames Quixote's quest. As he and his fellow prisoners are held, pending the pleasure of the inquisitors, Cervantes diverts himself and the others with his tale of a noblman who is convinced that he is a knight in a world from which knights have long vanished. Story teller and prisoners then segue into this story's characters.
Unlike previous revivals this one has been given a complete face lift by the English director Joanathan Kent. In Brian Stokes Mitchell he also has found a leading man with a velvety baritone and enough charm to challenge the long held belief that Richard Kiley owned the Cervantes-Quixote role. Having seen Kiley during his initial appearance at the ANTA Theater in Greenwich Village, I can tell you that when, about half way through the intermissionless two hours, the moment finally comes and Mitchell sings the song, the impossible happens -- he makes the role totally his. No ghost of Kiley. Just Mitchell-cum-Quixote, bathed in a halo of star power, thrilling you to the tips of your toes. As the show's undisputed hit, you can count on hearing it reprised several times.
Mitchell is well supported by the other featured players. Ernie Sabella is a droll Sancho who resists the urge to be shticky. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio is a passionate Aldonza and her angry solo after she is abducted and raped is a true story telling show song. Mark Jacoby sings with sweet subtlety and brings just the right comic touch and sympathy for Quixote to the role of the Padre. Stephen Bogardus handily plays both Cervantes' and Quioxte's enemies. the prison prosecutor and the Doctor determined to derail the Quixote fantasy. Don Mayo is aptly forbidding as the Governor, more amiable as the Innkeeper who accomodatingly knights Quixote.
As for the new staging, the choreography by Luis Perez rises above the energetic label only in the abduction scene. The real innovation comes from Paul Brown's towering set, stunningly lit by Paul Gallo. This is a truly awesome construct of a dark metallic back wall dominated by a circular staircase that creates the effect of reaching into the stratosphere. Typical of today's high-tech stagecraft, the back wall splits apart regularly to give us a glimpse of Quixote's imaginary better world.
Jaw dropping as all this is, and suited to Kent's darkest vision, it comes at a price in that the set tends to upstage the simple fantasy. The charm of seeing broken wheels fashioned into a makeshift knight's steed seems out of synch with the overall scenic grandeur. On the same note James Torcellini's barber's entrance causes that splashy wall to break open to reveal a line-up of brilliant sunflowers and somehow deflects the fun of the ad-hoc golden helmet fashioned from his shaving bowl.
Anyone remembering the let's put on a show simplicty of the on as well as off-Broadway La Manchas featuring Richard Kiley will be torn between admiration for this high-tech presentation and a sense of nostalgia for what's been lost. Kids will love that big staircase and the breakaway wall -- an important consideration at this time of year when parents and grandparents are looking for holiday shows. In today's competitive Broadway show world, Man of LaMancha may not sustain a run to rival its original 2,328 performances, but it should please enough nine to ninety-year-olds to have a strong holiday season.
Theater Books Make Great Gifts
At This Theater
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
Click image to buy.
Go here for details and larger image.