Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Man of La Mancha"

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entire contents copyright 2010 by Tony Annicone

"Man of La Mancha"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

Turtle Lane'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 on how people conducted themselves in the past and Quixote's ideals would be a refreshing change to the current day world which seems headed to hell in a hand basket. Director John MacKenzie takes the audience into this dramatic world with his talented 18 member cast who weave a story of hope amidst tough and troubling times through dialogue and music. He instills these lessons in his cast members and they do an excellent 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 vision of "The Impossible Dream". This topnotch cast is rewarded with a standing ovation and many tears along the journey by show's end.

John not only directs this show but built the two story dungeon setting. It helps set the mood of the piece with the appropriate lighting by John, too. It helps to understand the transition from Cervantes' imagination and back to the real prison. John's lovely wife, Michelle is the scenic artist who painted the intricate designs on the set. Steve Black, the musical director picked some outstanding vocalist to sell the songs to the crowd. He not only conducts his 7 piece orchestra but plays the lead keyboards for it and taught the cast these intricate songs. The standout choral numbers include "Golden Helmet" and the show stopping finale which leaves everyone in tears at its powerful impact. Stage manager Christopher Teague keeps the characters moving seamlessly from one scene to the next. Another important part of this show are the costumes by Richard Itczak which help the cast turn into the roles they are portraying in the Quixote storyline. The especially impressive costumes are Antonia's, Carrasco's, the housekeeper and the Padre.

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. James Fitzpatrick handles this huge undertaking 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 her death, Robin Amendola is dragged out of the prison, screaming and begging for mercy during this scene, leaving the audience empathic at her plight. Not only is James a fantastic actor turning himself into this knight errant, he is also a terrific 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. This song stops the show with its intensity, sends chills up your spine with James receiving a thunderous ovation at its conclusion as he hits the final high note of the number. He starts off the show with the duet with Sancho, "I Am I, Don Quixote", delivers the poignancy with a 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. Tracy Nygard, a gorgeous statuesque brunette with captivating blue eyes, breathes life into the role of the strumpet who becomes the lady, Dulcinea, in accordance to Quixote's vision of her. She reminds you of Catherine Zeta Jones. Whoever plays this underwritten role must have the acting chops to accomplish this transformation to make it believable and Tracy does it with flying colors. She is not only an excellent actress but 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 with her "Dulcinea" and her recitation of "The Impossible Dream". Tracy 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 tear jerker number and her exasperation at his foolish idealism in "Aldonza" with her climbing the stairway at the close of the number heightening its impact. She runs the gamut of emotions in this role and does a terrific job in the abduction scene as she fighter off the muleteers. Tracy's finale song will have you sobbing in your seats at its powerful impact.(Last reviewed Tracy as the lead in "Sorry Wrong Number" in 2007.) Brava!

The comic side of this show is handled by Joe Berry as Sancho. This man has a fabulous tenor voice which is heard in the opening song with James, 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 Alsono remember being Don Quixote. Joe sells not only the songs 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, gaining the empathy of the audience.(Last May Joe and James starred as Max and Roger in "The Producers" at Turtle Lane, showing they are adept at comic roles, too.) Tim Leahy plays the Governor/Innkeeper 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 into trouble. Tim is not only a talented actor but possesses a bass/baritone voice which is heard in "Knight of the Woeful Countenance" number with James, Joe and Tracy where he finally dubs him a knight. The Innkeeper's shrewish wife, Maria is played by Colette Gagnon who rules him with an iron thumb while the serving girls are played by Emma Putnam and Joelle Kross who also play the dancing horses in the show.. The show's villain, Duke/Dr. Carrasco is wonderfully played by Kevin Cirone ( He played the comical villain Franz in "The Producers") 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 Alsono 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 Bob Vanaria. His strong tenor voice sells his "To Each His Dulcinea" song which says that everyone needs something good in their life and the poignant death lament, "De Profundis" sung after Quixote's death. Bob brings the needed depth that the role needs. Antonia is played by Shonna McEachern who has a topnotch soprano voice as does June Kfoury as the Housekeeper. They show their concern for her uncle in "I'm Only Thinking of Him" with Bob and later with Kevin in a trio and quartet version. The rough muleteers are led by Craig McKerley as Pedro who possesses a glorious tenor voice which is heard in "Little Bird" and the group numbers. Cliff Blake is a hoot as the barber. This show brings back many happy memories of when I played the Barber and Moorish pimp twice in 1985 and 1990. So for an outstanding 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" (19 February - 14 March)
283 Melrose Street, AUBURNDALE (NEWTON) MA
1 (617)244-0169

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