note: entire contents copyleft 2003 by Will Stackman
Reviewed by Will Stackman
book by Dale Wasserman based on the novel by Miguel de Cervantes
music by Mitch Leigh, lyrics by Joe Darion
directed and choreographed by Susan Streater
Musical Director .... Deb Lewis
Scenic Design ....Ted Simpson
Costume Design .... Toni Bratton Elliott
Lighting .... Charlie Morrison
Production Stage Manager .... Jane Siebels
Bryan Scott Johnson . . . . Cervantes/ Don Quixote
Mary Jayne Raleigh . . . . Aldonza/ Dulcinea
Anthony Santelmo Jr . . . . Manservant/ Sancho Panza
Peter Haydu . . . . the "Duke"/ Dr. Carrasco
Stephen Hope . . . . a prisoner/ the Padre
Jessica Healy . . . . a prisoner/ Antonia Quihana
Celeste McClain . . . . a prisoner/ the Housekeeper
Michael Kreutz . . . . the "Governor"/ the Innkeeper
Karen Fanale . . . . a prisoner/ Innkeeper's wife
Josef Hansen. . . . a prisoner/ the Barber
Billy Butler. . . . guitar player / Pedro the muleteer
Bill Allsbrook. . . . Captain of the Guard/ a muleteer
Kerri Wilson . . . . a prisoner/ the Gypsy Dancer
Joshua Olkowski . . . . a prisoner/ Anselmo the boy
Cory Scott, John Michael Dupuis, Cory Scott . . prisoners/muleteers
Walking into the Stoneham Theatre for "Man of La Mancha", the audience is confronted by Ted Simpson's massive dungeon set with a huge set of steps looming overhead. When the lights dim and the cast slithers in to the sound of a lone guitarist, clanking echoes through the hall instead of an overture and the stairs descend slowly. This '60s adaptation of the world's first great novel is one of the landmarks in the development of the American Musical Theatre. This music drama born on the tiny stage of the Goodspeed Opera House on the banks of the Connecticut River went on to run some 2300 performances in New York, played worldwide including a version adapted by and starring Jacques Brel in Paris, and is currently back on Broadway starring Brian Stokes Mitchell. (The 1972 film with Peter O'Toole, Sophia Loren, and James Coco is best forgotten.)
Stoneham's production this month is a worthy revival of this "Impossible Dream."
Down those stairs come a fat man guarding his master's trunk followed by a lean and rather threadbare gentleman. They are Miguel de Cervantes and his manservant, thrown into prisoner at the behest of the Inquisition, not because of anything Cervantes wrote, but because as a part-time revenue officer, he tried to tax a monastery. To save their skins from the cutthroats in this hell-hole, Cervantes proposes to act out the tale of Don Quixote, an addled country squire who sets off with his peasant neighbor Sancho Panza on a knightly quest. A second layer of theatrical magic begins. In this production, Brian Scott Johnson plays the poet/actor "impersonating" the lanky Don, while burly Anthony Santelmo Jr. plays a rather skittish Sancho. Both men are veterans of numerous musical tours and productions and build the opening number "I am I" together.
These two are joined by the equally experienced Mary Jayne Raleigh as Aldonza, a sluttish servant at the inn who Quixote insists is his Dulcinea, and Peter Edmund Haydu as an elegant prisoner who becomes Dr, Carrasco, engaged to Quixote's neice. Raleigh has several heart-breaking moments. Haydu was seen last year as Orin in "Little Shop" at Stoneham and last fall in "The Gig" at the Lyric, among his other accomplishments. As Quixote's niece, Antonia Quihana, Jessica Healy shines in "I'm Only Thinking of him", joined by Celeste McClain as the old man's housekeeper. Stephen Hope as the Padre makes it a trio, with Carrasco joining on the reprise. Hope's clear tenor is especially effective later in the show for "To Each His Dulcinea" and the "De Profundus" which announces Alonzo Quihana's death. Hope is also the assistant choreographer, probably for the fight scenes.
Among the ensemble which supports these primary characters, Josef Hansen, who played Seymour for Stoneham last spring , as the Barber, and Michael Kreutz as the prisoner "Governor" who becomes the Innkeeper, are noteworthy. Hansen is the more musical. Bill Allbrook who inhabited Audrey II last spring gets to double as the Captain of the Guard and a shaven-headed thug, not to mention an uncredited gypsy. Kerri Nicole Wilson is appropriately seductive as the Gypsy Dancer distracting Quixote while the rest of her tribe robs him. And the two anonymous muleteers who get to play Quixote's horse and Sancho's donkey do an excellent job in both their scenes.
This Stoneham production, which concludes Stoneham's regular season, doesn't break any new ground for the show, and sometimes strains toward the heights to which the piece might be taken. But the company takes "The Quest" for an ideal show quite a ways. This "Man of La Mancha"s production values are sound. Deb Lewis's band of eight or so is solid and tuneful, and Toni Bratton Elliot's costume selections are suitably grimy with a touch of fantasy. The whole evening comes together and moves briskly towards its "Unreachable Star." Anyone who's never seen Quixote ride forth will get a good introduction to the piece, and those who've seen the show before won't be disappointed by this excellent effort.