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

MMAS's current show is the Tony Award winning musical "Man of La Mancha" which is based on Miguel De Cervantes 16th Century novel, Don Quixote. It is set in the common room of a prison in Seville, Spain during the Spanish Inquisition. Don Quixote sees the world as he thinks it ought to 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. His morals and standards of living bring current day audiences a look back at how people conducted themselves in the past and Quixote's ideals would be a refreshing change to current day world which seems headed to hell in a hand basket. Director Dawn Tucker takes the audience into this dramatic world with her talented 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 and they do a terrific job with a heartwarming show that brings hope for a better tomorrow and the belief that everyone's impossible dream will come true. The important message to strive for your ideals is learned by these prisoners by show's end by accepting Quixote's version of "The Impossible Dream". This marvelous cast is rewarded with a standing ovation and many tears along the journey to the end of the show.

Dawn incorporates some of Dale Wasserman's lines from his 1959 "I, Don Quixote" television show into this script. She also taught the cast the choreography for the show and has her cast do a clever welcome to the audience to inform them of theater rules. Danielle Clougher is the musical director who chose some topnotch vocalists to sell the songs to the crowd and she conducts her 4 piece orchestra while playing lead keyboards. Danielle also taught the intricate songs to the cast.The standout choral numbers include "Golden Helmet" and the show stopping "Impossible Dream" finale which leaves everyone in tears at its emotional impact. Gary Poholek designed and built the dungeon set for the show with appropriate lighting by Justin Trask. The lighting helps the audience understand the transition from Cervantes' imagination and back to prison again. Glenn Fournier painted the intricate dungeon, floor design and brick work for the set. Costumes are by Atia DeRosa and props by Glenn, Betsy Pedula and Jill Holland. Stage manager Marc Thomas keeps the characters moving seamlessly from one scene to the next and runs the lights, too.

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 a play scenes. Ken Butler handles this huge role excellently. He makes the transitions among the three much older characters than he is 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. A terrifying moment occurs as the guards descend before his meaning of life scene to take a prisoner to his death. Bruce Fischer is dragged out of the prison, screaming and begging for mercy during this scene, leaving the audience empathic at his plight. Not only is Ken a fantastic actor turning himself into this knight errant, he is also a marvelous singer with a terrific 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 Ken receives a thunderous ovation at its conclusion as he hits the final note of the number. He starts off the show with the duet with Sancho, "I Am I, Don Quixote", delivers the poignancy necessary with his heartfelt rendition of "Dulcinea" when he first spots his lady love and in the rousing "Golden Helmet", where he thinks a shaving basin is his helmet. Bravo on a job very well done.

Equally important is the actress who plays Aldonza in this show. Kristen Huberdeau, a gorgeous brunette, breathes life into the role of the strumpet who becomes the lady, Dulcinea, in accordance to Quixote's vision of her. Whoever plays this underwritten role must have the acting chops to accomplish this transformation to make it believable and Kristen does it with flying colors. She is not only a topnotch actress but also has a terrific soprano voice which moves the audience to tears when she tries to bring Don Quixote back to his life of adventure with her "Dulcinea" and her recitation of "The Impossible Dream". Kristen also shows Aldonza's spitfire side and harsh behavior in "It's All the Same", her tender side in "What Does He Want of Me?" which is a tearjerker number and in "Aldonza" shows her exasperation at his foolish idealism. She runs the gamut of emotions in this role and does a marvelous job in the abduction scene as she fights off the muleteers. Kristen's finale song will have you sobbing in your seats at its powerful impact.The comic side of the show is handled by Andrew Rhodes as Sancho. This man has a fantastic voice which is heard in the opening song with Ken, 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. Andrew not only sells the song but his one liners leave you in stitches due to his comic mannerisms, line delivery and facial expressions. The poignant last scene and the tenderness of all three leads is felt in the deathbed scene, garnering the empathy of the audience. Andrew also help choreograph the fight scene which left the audience in stitches.

Bill Roberts 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. And as the innkeeper he tries to control Quixote and Sancho but they always seem to get into trouble. Bill is not only a talented actor but has a bass/baritone voice which is heard in "Knight of the Woeful Countenance" number with Ken, Kristen and Andrew where he finally dubs him a knight. The Innkeeper's shrewish wife, Maria is played by Sarah Barlow while the serving girl Fermina is played by Andrea Segal who also plays one of the dancing horses in the show with Ben Medeiros, Doug and Stephen. The villain of this piece, Duke/Dr. Carrasco is wonderfully played by Brendon Auld. The doctor is a man of science who stands in the way of the idealism set forth by Cervantes. He is married to Quiana's niece and is worried about her inheritance and makes Alonso 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 played by Stephen Lee. His strong tenor voice sells his "To Each His Dulcinea" song which says that everyone needs to have something good in their life and the poignant death lament, "De Profundis" sung after Quixote's death. Stephen brings the needed depth that the role calls for. Antonia, the niece is played by Ashley Wallace who has a terrific soprano voice as does Shannon Manley as the Housekeeper. They show their concern for Antonia's uncle in "I'm Only Thinking of Him" with Stephen and later with Brendon in a trio and quartet version. Dawn uses a chess board lighting for their first scene as they discuss how to deal with Alonso. The rough muleteers are led by Michael Gebrayel as Pedro who possesses a glorious tenor voice and sings the lead in "Dulcinea" while Jon Pierce sings tenor verse of "Little Bird" and Jon also plays the Moorish pimp. Doug McDougal is a hoot as the barber whose shaving basin is stolen by Alonso. This show bring back many happy memories of when I played the Barber and the Moorish pimp back in 1985 and 1990. So for a splendid production of this classic show be sure to catch "Man of La Mancha" before Don Quixote and company ride out of town.

"Man of La Mancha" (25 March - 10 April)
@ Black Box Theater, 377 North Main Street, MANSFIELD MA

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide