Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Man of La Mancha"

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entire contents copyright 2011 by Tony Annicone

"Man of La Mancha"

by Tony Annicone

The second show of Theatre by the Sea's 78th season is Tony Award winning "Man of La Mancha" which is based on Miguel De Cervantes 16th century novel, Don Quixote. The show is a play within a musical and is set in a common rooom of a prison in Seville, Spain during the Spanish Inquisition. Don Quixote sees the world as he thinks it should be. He imagines he is a knight, his faithful servant his squire; together they will punish evildoers, restore justice and bring chivalry back to society. Cervantes has been imprisoned and is seeking to save his uncompleted novel from confiscation, he dramatically pleads his case by reenacting the story of Don Quixote de La Mancha: the passionate and poignant tale of the noble knight who lives in a world of madness and cannot believe that chivalry has died. To fulfill his mission, he must convince his loving niece, her doctor fiance, the local priest and the lovely Dulcinea, that his holy quest is a mission of salvation to find compassion, not for himself, but for everyone. His morals and standards of living bring current day audiences a look back at how people conducted themselves in the past and how Quixote's ideals would be a refreshing change to the current day world which seems to be headed to hell in a hand basket. Director Amiee Turner takes the audience into this dramatic world with her 17 member cast who weave a story of hope amidst tough and troubling times through dialogue and music. She instills these lessons in her cast members. Her cast does a wonderful job with this heartwarming show that brings hope for a better tomorrow and the belief that everyone's impossible dream will come true. This important message to strive for your ideals is learned by these prisoners by the end of the show. They accept Quixote's version of "The Impossible Dream". This cast is rewarded with a standing ovation and many tears along their journey in this show.

Amiee Turner obtains topnotch performances from her cast, mixing the comic and dramatic moments together. She has her three leads bow seperately while the rest of the cast does a group bow. The audience seemed to want to applaud the individual characters they liked most. Aaron McCallister is the musical director who taught the intricate songs to the cast and conducts a 7 piece orchestra. Standout choral numbers include "Golden Helmet" and the show stopping "Impossible Dream" finale which leaves everyone in tears at its emotional impact.Leslie Unger choreographs this show some standout moments include the horse dance and the fight choreography that leaves the audience laughing out loud. Owner Bill Hanney and the Ocean State Theatre Company, the not for profit producing entity for the historic Theatre by the Sea, hires topnotch technical staff. Mark Halpin designed the fabulous dungeon set with costumes by Jeff Shearer. The linchpin in this show is the person who plays the dual roles of Cervantes and Don Quixote who is really Alonso Quijana in the play within the play scenes. Bruce Winant handles this huge role excellently. He makes the transitions among these three characters with ease. The most dramatic moments are when he explains the meaning of life and when he takes leave of the prison in the final scene. Not only is Bruce a fantastic actor turning himself into this knight errant, he is also a marvelous vocalist with a splendid baritone voice. His voice soars in The Impossible Dream" while teaching Aldonza and the audience how we should live our lives. This song stops the show with its intensity and sends chills up your spine as Bruce hits the final note, winning thunderous applause at its conclusion. He starts off the show with the energetic duet with Sancho called "I Am I, Don Quixote", delivers the necessary poignancy with his heartfelt rendition of "Dulcinea" when he first spots his lady love, in the rousing "Golden Helmet" where he thinks a barber's shaving basin is his helmet and in the tearjerking finale numbers and death sequence. Bravo on a job well done!

Equally important is the actress who plays Aldonza in this show, Christine Rowan and whoever plays this underwritten role must be able to accomplish this transformation. She has a lovely soprano voice which moves the audience to tears when she tries to bring Don Quixote back to life in her "Dulcinea" and her recitation of "The Impossible Dream" during the death sequence. Her first number is "It's All the Same" where she could have been tougher with the muleteers, then "What Does He Want of Me?" which is a poignant song, and in her best number "Aldonza", shows her exasperation at his foolish idealism finally capturing the intensity and spitfire side of the character. Her finale number with the other inmates will leave you sobbing in your seats at its impact. The comic side of the show is handled by Robert Anthony Jones, as Sancho. This man has a topnotch tenor voice which is heard in the opening song with Bruce, in the hilarious "I Like Him" song where he tells Aldonza why he follows his master and in "A Little Gossip" song where he tries to help Alonso remember being Don Quixote.

JP Sarro plays the Governor with great physical prowess and energy necessary to keep the other prisoners in line and to put Cervantes on trial in these scenes. As the innkeeper, he tries to control Quixote and Sancho but they always seem to get in trouble. The Innkeeper's shrewish wife is played by Diana Blanda while the serving girl Fermina is played by Amanda Kouri. The next four performers had the best singing voices in this show. The villain of this piece, Duke/Dr. Carrasco is excellently played by Royce McIntosh. The doctor is a man of science who stands in the way of the idealism set forth by Cervantes. He is to be married to Quijana's niece Antonia and is worried about her inheritance. The Doctor makes Quijana snap back to reality by becoming the Knight of the Mirrors where the idealism is destroyed by the harsh view of reality. The Padre is terrifically played by Alan Wager . His strong tenor voice soars off the charts in his "To Each His Dulcinea" which says everyone needs to have something good in their life and the poignant death lament "De Profundis" sung after Quixote's death. Alan brings the needed depth to the role. Antonia, the niece is played by Anna Kimmell who has a terrific soprano voice as does Diana Blanda as The Housekeeper. They show their concern for her uncle in "I'm Only Thinking of Him" with Alan and later with Royce in a trio and quartet version. Their harmonic sound is outstanding. I last reviewed Anna as Wendy in "Peter Pan" two years ago. I acted with Diana back in 2003 in "See How They Run" at the Newport Playhouse. The rough muleteers are led by Chris Caran as Pedro. Evan Price is a hoot as the barber whose shaving basin is stolen by Quixote. He gets to show off his tenor voice in the Barber song. This show brings back many happy memories of when I played the barber and Moorish pimp back in 1985 and 1990 at the Newport Playhouse. Press night isn't complete without the sumptious buffet at Bistro by the Sea prepared by Duane Crowe and his lovely wife, Karleen. The delicacies this time included chicken wings, vegatables, carrot cake and salad. Earlier in the night I ate a delicious dinner of Sole Francaise, with melt in your mouth mashed potatoes and roasted zucchini with homemade Key Lime Pie for dessert.So for a chance to catch this classic show, "Man of La Mancha" at Theatre by the Sea, do it before Don Quixote and company ride out of town.

"Man of La Mancha" (22 June - 17 July)
@ 364 Cards Pond Road, MATUNUCK RI
(1(401) 782-8587

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide