Reviewed by Tony Annicone
Academy Players first show of this season is "Man of La Mancha". The show takes place in the common room of a prison in Seville, Spain at the end of the 16th century. This tale of Miguel De Cervantes/Don Quixote has the best 17 member orchestra under the musical direction of Anthony Torelli, I have ever heard in community theater. Add the beautiful mixture of comedy and drama played by the 19 member cast under the direction of first time director, Anthony Prichard and you have one of the must see musicals of the fall season.
From the beginning of the show, the overture sounds like the Broadway recording and the glorious sounds continue until the show's end. In most musicals, the least important part of it seems to be the music itself. However both Anthony Torelli and Anthony Prichard have made the music soar and the music receives the needed attention to detail it deserves. Prichard takes his performers and melds them into the prison inmates of the 16th century. He does an excellent job with the all the details and characterizations of the piece so the emotional impact of the show is delivered to an appreciative and responsive audience. Torelli not only directs the huge orchestra but has taught the entire cast the difficult and intricate songs, too. Other technical people to be commended are hard working stage manager, Janet Prichard, choreographer, Sabrina Boulay, fight choreographer, J Schaefer, technical director, Don Walters, makeup and hair design, Joe Turchetta, lighting, Dennis Pouliot, sound Peter McDonough and props, Barbara Greene. This show depends on the casting of a strong lead who can play the dual roles of Don Quixote and Cervantes. Playing the role expertly is Don Cornell who makes the transition between the two characters with ease. He also has a fantastic baritone voice and sings all his numbers splendidly. "Dulcinea" is heartfelt, "Golden Helmet" is rousing but it is "The Impossible Dream" which leaves the audience spellbound and wanting more. Don makes his relationships with the rest of the cast believable, handling the humorous and tender moments wonderfully. One of the standout scenes is the death scene. Aiding him in the show is his sidekick, Sancho played by Steven DeCesare. He has a fantastic tenor voice which he uses in the "I Like Him" and "A Little Gossip" solos. Steven is a comic actor who also delivers the emotional impact needed after Quiana's death. His sobbing is well done as is his terrible fright as he and Cervantes are led out to face the Inquistion. The most difficult role in the show is Aldonza, the strumpet who becomes Quixote's lady by shows end. Janine L. Weisman brilliantly handles it with her strong acting delivery especially in the transition scene where she says Don Quixote isn't really dead. She plays the spitfire who is in charge of the muleteers until she believes in helping them. The terrifying rape scene is very brutal and shows how Aldonza is destroyed by the men but she comes back to believe in the message of goodness by Don Quixote. Janine delivers the goods in her brash songs, "It's All The Same" and "Aldonza" as well as her beautiful ballad, "What Does He Want of Me?". A very strong actress who plays this part well.
Paul Mancini plays the Governor/Innkeeper with the necessary strength but delivers the humor and charm of the role, too. He keeps the Man of La Mancha in line in the prison during the trial and tries to do the same at the inn. Paul uses his baritone voice in his solo number "Knight of the Woeful Countenance" when he finally dubs Ouixote a knight. His shrewish wife is played by Valerie Jarzombek and the serving girl and Moorish dancer is played by Christine Treglia who shakes her booty while stealing everything from Quixote and Sancho. Both of them make the most of their time on stage. Playing Duke/Dr. Carrasco is Anthony Prichard. He not only directs the show but plays the villian who snaps Quiana back to reality. Anthony plays this role wonderfully and he redeems the Duke at show's end by shaking Cervantes hand. The knight of the mirrors segment with four other knights is a stand out moment of the evening by destroying the idealism with the harshness of reality.
Alonso's niece, Antonia is played excellently by Siobhan McHugh who has a fabulous soprano voice. Antonia and Carrasco plot to get her uncle's money while she and the housekeeper played by Zarie Alhijanian show their concern in the lovely, 'I'm Only Thinking of Him". Zarie brings a comic touch to the role. Tom Briody plays the Padre in the show returning to the theater after a long hiatus. He does a great job in it and as the Padre, he tries to keep things in their proper perspective. He sings his solos, "To Each His Dulcinea" and "De Profundis" beautifully as he does the trio with Siobhan and Zaire.
The muleteers are given strong portrayals by seven talented actors. Ronald Haxton sings the "Little Bird" song beautifully and he and Michael Farrelly play the dancing horse and mule. Steven Pacheco plays the head muleteer, Pedro and delivers a sinister side to this brutal character. Joseph Turchetta who also plays the Moorish pimp, plays the most beaten up muleteer in the group. Bart Duarte shows off his singing in the opening death chant and uses his huge physical presence to intimidate Aldonza in the rape scene. Bruce Hammond doubles as the guitar player muleteer who tries to clobber people with it in the fight scene. Also doing double duty is Amedeo DiRocco who plays the barber who has his hat stolen from him. This 20 year old is hilarious in this role and brings much laughter to the scene. He also does a dramatic turn later as he is dragged out to the Inquisition. All of the people in the fight and rape scene deserve a tremendous amount of credit for their physicality in the show. The men also do excellent choral work in "Dulcinea" and "Golden Helmet. The closing number by the ensemble is a tearjerker and closes the show by making the audience feel it is okay to dream "The Impossible Dream".
Rounding out the cast are Mark DeWolfe as the Captain and Richard Nardella as the Soldier of the Inquisition who fighten the inmates and the crowd when they make their entrances. So for a night of wonderful theater, be sure to catch, "Man of La Mancha" in East Greenwich.