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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
Man of La Mancha

Additional comments by Elyse Sommer
Too much sanity may be madness! — Don Quixote
La Mancha

Sancho Panza (Tom Alan Robbins) and Don Quixote (Jeff McCarthy (Photo: Kevin Sprague
Barrington Stage Company is celebrating the 50th anniversary of Man of La Mancha, the musical play within a play with a sumptuous production. Jeff McCarthy stars as the famed author Cervantes and his alter ego the legendary Don Quixote.

The set by James Kronzer creates the foreshadowing ambience of a murky, terrifying dungeon. Here the real Cervantes, imprisoned by the Inquisition of the 1600's, is also a prisoner of the other inmates and must survive a menacing mock trial until he is brought forth to defend himself in a far more reality based life and death ordeal.
This frame story musical won the Best Musical Tony in 1965. It continues to enthrall audiences with its timely themes, celebrating the idea of fighting to make our system what we believe it should be as opposed to what it is.

Is Cervantes, are we all, mad when we attempt to live in a world of our own choosing — to be ignorant of or to eschew the everyday avarice, casual violence, political and religious terrorism which assaults our sensibilities.

Of course, Cervantes encounters opposition just as does his creation Don Quixote when their realities collide with others' perceptions. It is always a shock for idealists to discover that not everyone shares their visions.

Though the show has not lost its appeal to "Dream the Impossible Dream," this production directed by Julianne Boyd lacks her usual verve. The opening scene where the actors as swaggering, dangerous prisoners break the fourth wall and menace the audience is intrusive and delays audience's entering their own special connection to the magical suspension of willing disbelief. Instead of being propelled into their worlds we are detached.

With the entrance of Cervantes the pace picks up but the delay has created a stagnancy that is difficult to overcome. It seems as if the production is always a second or two off the mark. We have become observers instead of colluders in the elaborate charade. The machinations behind the play itself are obvious, creating a cynical deconstruction of each scene rather than allowing us to embrace the story.

Jeff McCarthy as Cervantes the whimsical and beleaguered poet rises to the vibrant lunacy of Don Quixote with a finely nuanced juggling of the various threads of the story. Tom Alan Robbins' Sancho Panza is a little less than the faithful always bemused servant the role requires. Trying to keep up with his master's whims, he appears to be thinking rather than feeling the emotion of what should be a lovable buffoon.

Aldonza, the inn's maid and Quixote's imagined courtly lady Dulcinea played by Felicia Boswell is a believable downtrodden whore, but her voice is strident instead of sultry and worldly wise. Her singing does not admit the soulful sound of a woman who has seen it all but can still heed the siren song to be better than she is.

The rest of the ensemble is energetic and readily moves back and forth between their roles as prisoners and characters. Ed Dixon's Governor/Innkeeper and Todd Horman as Captain of the Inquisition/Padre are standouts with the subtle wit required to move fluidly and believably through their dual roles.

Adding to Kronzer's imposing set is Chris Lee's lighting design which transports us to the terror of a sinister Spanish dungeon and lights the shining interior of Quixote's quest. Olivera Gajic's costumes are creative in their minimalistic transformations.

The nine-piece orchestra directed by Darren R. Cohen certainly provides a lush back drop to the many memorable songs from this score. The choreography by Greg Graham could be toned down a bit so that it is supportive rather than intrusive to the overall production.

This is a wonderful show for the idealistic-at-heart. All analysis aside, it is a guaranteed summer crowd pleaser.

Man of La Mancha
Book by Dale Wasserman
Music by Mitch Leigh
Lyrics by Joe Darion
Directed by Julianne Boyd
Choreography: Greg Graham
Musical director: Darren Cohen
Cast List: Jeff McCarthy, Felicia Boswell, Rosalie Burke, Meg Bussert, Ed Dixon, Todd Horman, Lexi Janz, Sara Kase, Matthew Krob, Parker Krug, Sean McLaughlin, Louie Napoleon, Waldemar Quinones-Villanueva, Chris Ramirez, Lyonel Reneau, Tom Alan Robbins, Ben Schrager, Jonathan Spivey, Joseph Torello
Set Design: James Kronzer
Lighting Design: Chris Lee
Costume Design: Olivera Gajic
Sound Design: Ed Chapman
Fight Choreographer: Ryan Winkles
Stage manager: Renee Lutz
Run Time: one hour- forty-five minutes, no intermission
Barrington Stage Company, 30 Union St., Pittsfield, MA
From 6/10/15; opening 6/14/15; closing 7/11/15
Performances: Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:00; Thursday-Saturday at 8:00; Wednesday and Friday matinees at 2:00, Sunday at 5:00
Tickets: $20-$65 Reviewed by Gloria Miller at June 14th opening performance
Additional comments by Elyse Sommer
I'm glad I arrived in the Berkshires in time to see Barrington Stage's season opening musical. As my colleague Gloria Miller pointed out when she reviewed the opening night performance, this Man Of La Mancha is indeed a sumptuous production. And, even if you're old enough to have seen Richard Kiley who created the role half a century ago, this production proves that no one ever really owns a part. Jeff McCarthy is a truly memorable knight-- right age, right looks, right vocals, right acting chops. In short, right everything.

I can't recall any less than top drawer performance by this versatile performer. Any show tune is guaranteed to soar if McCarthy is doing the singing as was the case with his Officer Lockstock in the Off and On Broadway hit
Urinetown as well as his performances in Barrington Stage's terrific productions of Mack and Mabel and Follies and and their Musical Theatre Lab's Southern Comfort. He shines even when he's not singing as in All My Sons (also at Barrington Stage).

The only song from previous La Manchas I've seen that's deeply embedded in my memory is the beautiful (and here thrillingly performed) "The Impossible Dream." And when this production finally got to it, it was as moving as ever. McCarthy's rendition not only sent shivers up my spine, but reinforced my sense that some of this material, especially the ten minutes before this showstopper, could have used some trimming. Despite that longueur segment, however, it was a pleasure to hear to become reaquainted with some of the other very finely rendered songs like "To Each His Dulciman", "What Does He Want of Me", "Aldonza", and "Little Bird, Little Bird".

I thought the opening number did such a good job of establishing the darkness that predominates Julianne Boyd's vision for this revival, that the ensemble's facing the audience rather than each other didn't bother me as it did Gloria.

Boyd's focus on a darkness is depressingly timely, though it is probably one reason that the big missing ingredient in this production, was a strong Sancho Panza. Cervante's loyal manservant is the role model for many a tv, movie and play sidekick character. Except for an okay "I Really Like Him," Tom Alan Robbins is more easily overlooked than a major presence.

As for Felicia Boswell's Aldonza/Dulcinea, she seems to have toned down some of the vocal stridency; but even if some of her singing comes off a bit too strong, it makes the poignancy of her reprise of the show's anthem at Don Quioxte's bedside that much sweeter.

If the show leaves you with an urge to read the classic that inspired it, there are plenty of copies still available, including a free copy for your e-reader. To read my review of the last Broadway revival go here .
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©Copyright 2015, Elyse Sommer.
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