Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Man of La Mancha"

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entire contents copyright 2002 by Tony Annicone

"Man of La Mancha"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

City Nights Dinner Theatre's current show is the Tony award winning musical, "Man of La Mancha". Based on Miguel Cervantes, "Don Quixote", the show takes place in a prison in Spain at the end of the 16th century during the Spanish Inquisition. Director Joseph C. Walsh takes the audience into this dramatic world with his talented 15 member cast who weave a story of hope amidst tough and troubling times through the dialogue and music. This important message to strive for your ideals is learned by these prisoners by show's end by accepting Quixote's vision of "The Impossible Dream", showing the audience to search for the best in our own troubled times.

The two story dungeon setting by Doug Macaskill, helps set the mood of the show with the appropriate lighting by Rocky Vaughan, to change the scenes from Cervantes' imagination and back to the real prison. Rachel Peters, the musical director, chooses some of the best vocalists to sell the songs to the crowd and Robert Barossi, the stage manager, keeps the characters moving seamlessly from one scene to the next. Another important part of this show is the costumes by Tina Kenney which help the cast turn into the roles they are portraying in the Quixote storyline.

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) Michael Mezo, only 34 years old, handles this huge undertaking beautifully. He makes the transitions among the three characters with ease especially considering he is playing much older men. (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 Michael, a terrific actor, transforming himself into this knight errant, he is also a skillful singer, with a tremendous baritone voice. His voice soars in "The Impossible Dream" while teaching Aldonza and the audience how we should live our lives and receives a thunderous ovation at its conclusion. Michael delivers the goods in the moving, "Dulcinea", where he first spots his lady love and in the rousing, "Golden Helmet", where he thinks a shaving basin is his helmet. A very talented native of Hartford, Connecticut, who makes his first of hopefully many more appearances in shows in Rhode Island. Bravo, on a job well done.

Equally important is the actress who plays Aldonza, the most difficult role in this show. Boston native, Kristin Palson 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 Kristin accomplishes it with her talent. She also has a fantastic soprano voice which moves the audience to tears when she tries to bring Don Quixote back to his life of adventure. Kristin also shows Aldonza's harsh side in "It's All the Same", her tender side in "What Does He Want of Me?" and her exasperation at his foolish idealism in "Aldonza". Another first time performer in this state with the hope of many future return engagements. Brava.

The comic side of this show is handled by Thomas Epstein as Sancho. This man has an excellent tenor voice which is heard in the opening song with Michael, in the "I Like Him" song where he tells Aldonza why he follows his master and in "A Little Gossip" song where he tries to help Quijana remember his being Don Quixote. Thomas sells not only the songs but his one liners through his comic mannerisms and delivery with just the right facial expressions. The tenderness of all three leads is felt in the deathbed scene, leading these emotions to be also felt by the audience members.

Chris Schultz plays the Governor/Innkeeper with great physical prowess and energy neccessary to keep the other prisoners in line and to put Cervantes on trial in these scenes. (He tries to control Quixote in the inn scenes but he and Sancho always seem to get in trouble.) Chris is not only a talented actor but he possesses a dynamic bass/baritone voice which he uses in his "Knight of the Woeful Countenance" number. His shrewish wife is played by Kathleen Fortner and the serving girl, Fermina by Kim Kooloian. The show's villian, Dr. Carrasco is played by Jonathan Breindel. He is the voice of science who stands in the way of the idealism set forth by Cervantes

. The Padre is played by veteran actor, Richard Blue. His strong tenor voice sells his "To Each His Dulcinea" song about everyone needs something good to hope for in life and the poignant death lament, "De Profundis" sung after the death of Quixote. Richard also brings the needed depth to his role by his interactions with the other cast members. Alonso's niece, Antonia is played by Joan Bissell who also plays the slutty Moorish dancer in the second act. She handles both the singing and dancing with ease. Her counterpart in the show is the Housekeeper played by Dawn Boukari. Their beautiful soprano voices shine in "I'm Only Thinking of Him", trio with Richard. Dawn's reactions to everthing on stage during the show are perfect and she stays in character at all times.

The rowdy muleteers are played by Norm Hassinger, (who also plays the evil, menancing, Captain of the Guard, very well) Stephen Dias, (who plays the comical barber who's hat is stolen by Quixote and he gets many laughs, too)Doug Macaskill, (who plays the whip wielding, Pedro, does a great job in the role, having stepped into it at the very last minute) C. David Newton and Mark Laporte( who not only sing but also double as the gypsies.) These men handle the fight and abduction scenes with the brutality needed to scare the audience. The standout choral numbers include "Golden Helmet" and the stunning, finale of the show which leaves everyone in tears.

A dinner theatre show is not complete without a fantastic meal to accompany the show. For this show, Chef Brian Condron of Chef Nation prepares chicken "maison", an oven baked chiken breast filled with herb vegetable stuffing and beef "grabd mere", a ground beef sirloin mini loaf with special seasonings and simmered in a wine sauce. You also are served mashed potatoes, mixed fresh seasonal vegetables, a garden salad, fresh rolls, coffee or tea, and assorted pastries for dessert. You won't leave the theatre hungry, believe me. So for a musical with a strong storyline and incredible singing plus a scrumptious dinner, go see, Man of La Mancha at City Nights.

"Man of LaMancha" (5 April - 4 May)
1(401) 723-6060

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide