Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
As directed by the talented David Edwards (who also plays a supporting role in the musical), this Man of La Mancha is nicely staged on a multi-level set (splendidly designed by Daniel Nischan) and Edwards brings out the best in Dale Wasserman's book and Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion's enduring score (which is played thrillingly by the off-stage orchestra led by the expert musical director Paul Feyer). Ivoryton Playhouse seems to be on a roll here, with excellent recent productions of Chicago and Rent, and Man of La Mancha another feather in this company's cap.
The plot and structure of Man of La Mancha have always been fascinating, since it is essentially a story within a story: Miguel de Cervantes is imprisoned and is to be summoned before the Inquisition for crimes, but first, he must be tried by his fellow inmates. So, in his defense, Cervantes assumes the persona of Don Quixote and enlists the other prisoners to enact a fanciful tale in an attempt to prove his case. Though the conception of this musical may seem somewhat complicated, it ultimately works beautifully onstage.
David Pittsinger is both believable and sympathetic as Miguel de Cervantes and Don Quixote, maintaining full command of the stage. He makes his two big songs, the title tune and "The Impossible Dream," especially exciting. (at the performance I attended, some audience members gave Pittsinger a standing ovation after his rendition of "The Impossible Dream.") There are a number of roles in other musicals I would love to see this actor take on, but, for now, let's savor his sterling work here as both Miguel de Cervantes and Don Quixote.
As Aldonza, Talia Thiesfield proves to be a real powerhouse once she launches into "It's All the Same" in the first act. Playing a self-described kitchen slut, regularly abused by men, this actress manages to maintain her dignity and her fire throughout and, since she is so convincing in the role, the moments where she melts under Don Quixote's kindness are all the more touching. The rotund Brian Michael Hoffman makes for an ideal Sancho Panza, putting over his big numbers, particularly "I Really Like Him," excellently; his performance is quite endearing and appropriately comical.
The supporting cast in general have strong voices and vibrant presences, and they make the most of the group songs as well as the book scenes, with the scene of the mirrors near the conclusion being especially devastating. In a company of equals, James Van Treuren is grand as the Innkeeper and David Edwards is quite fine as Dr. Sanson Carrasco.
As director, Edwards fills out the entire stage with action, placing his actors on various platforms throughout, and the stage pictures, if you will, of the entire company are remarkable. The director gets a nice assist from choreographer Todd Underwood, as well as fine work by costume and wig designer Elizabeth Cipollina and lighting designer Marcus Abbott.
Man of La Mancha is an enduring classic of the musical stage and it's great to be able to say that the artists at Ivoryton Playhouse have put their own stamp on this show. Add in the stupendous David Pittsinger and Talia Thiesfield, and you have quite an evening of theatre.
Man of La Mancha continues performances at Ivoryton Playhouse in Ivoryton, CT through October 2, 2016. For tickets, please visit www.ivorytonplayhouse.org or call the box office at 860-767-7318.