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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
Man of La Mancha
Additional comments by Elyse Sommer
The set by James Kronzer creates the foreshadowing ambience of a murky, terrifying dungeon. Here the real Cervantes, imprisoned by the Inquisition of the 1600's, is also a prisoner of the other inmates and must survive a menacing mock trial until he is brought forth to defend himself in a far more reality based life and death ordeal.
This frame story musical won the Best Musical Tony in 1965. It continues to enthrall audiences with its timely themes, celebrating the idea of fighting to make our system what we believe it should be as opposed to what it is.
Is Cervantes, are we all, mad when we attempt to live in a world of our own choosing — to be ignorant of or to eschew the everyday avarice, casual violence, political and religious terrorism which assaults our sensibilities.
Of course, Cervantes encounters opposition just as does his creation Don Quixote when their realities collide with others' perceptions. It is always a shock for idealists to discover that not everyone shares their visions.
Though the show has not lost its appeal to "Dream the Impossible Dream," this production directed by Julianne Boyd lacks her usual verve. The opening scene where the actors as swaggering, dangerous prisoners break the fourth wall and menace the audience is intrusive and delays audience's entering their own special connection to the magical suspension of willing disbelief. Instead of being propelled into their worlds we are detached.
With the entrance of Cervantes the pace picks up but the delay has created a stagnancy that is difficult to overcome. It seems as if the production is always a second or two off the mark. We have become observers instead of colluders in the elaborate charade. The machinations behind the play itself are obvious, creating a cynical deconstruction of each scene rather than allowing us to embrace the story.
Jeff McCarthy as Cervantes the whimsical and beleaguered poet rises to the vibrant lunacy of Don Quixote with a finely nuanced juggling of the various threads of the story. Tom Alan Robbins' Sancho Panza is a little less than the faithful always bemused servant the role requires. Trying to keep up with his master's whims, he appears to be thinking rather than feeling the emotion of what should be a lovable buffoon.
Aldonza, the inn's maid and Quixote's imagined courtly lady Dulcinea played by Felicia Boswell is a believable downtrodden whore, but her voice is strident instead of sultry and worldly wise. Her singing does not admit the soulful sound of a woman who has seen it all but can still heed the siren song to be better than she is.
The rest of the ensemble is energetic and readily moves back and forth between their roles as prisoners and characters. Ed Dixon's Governor/Innkeeper and Todd Horman as Captain of the Inquisition/Padre are standouts with the subtle wit required to move fluidly and believably through their dual roles.
Adding to Kronzer's imposing set is Chris Lee's lighting design which transports us to the terror of a sinister Spanish dungeon and lights the shining interior of Quixote's quest. Olivera Gajic's costumes are creative in their minimalistic transformations.
The nine-piece orchestra directed by Darren R. Cohen certainly provides a lush back drop to the many memorable songs from this score. The choreography by Greg Graham could be toned down a bit so that it is supportive rather than intrusive to the overall production.
This is a wonderful show for the idealistic-at-heart. All analysis aside, it is a guaranteed summer crowd pleaser.