Regional Reviews: Las Vegas
Man of La Mancha
Quick: What is the best-selling novel of all time? Although most people wouldn't guess, it's Miguel de Cervantes' "Don Quixote,," the tale of a deluded 17th century Spaniard, Alonso Quijana, who believes he is a medieval knight errant on a mission to battle demons (windmills) and assorted other evildoers in order to bring virtue to a cruel world.
Man of La Mancha, by Dale Wasserman (book), Mitch Leigh (music), and Joe Darion (lyrics), adds thrilling music to this timeless tale, whose theme of standing up for what's right even against all odds seems especially contemporary during this dark time in world affairs (even more so because of the musical's framing device, which finds Cervantes in prison awaiting interrogation and summary sentencing by the Spanish Inquisition).
Valley residents can enjoy all of this under the stars with cool evening temperatures this month at the Super Summer Theatre at Spring Mountain Ranch. Although Philip Shelburne's production is far from perfect, its strengths outweigh its flaws and make it easily worth the price of admission.
Director Joe Hynes excels in the scenes that focus on spectacle, where he also benefits from the fine work of choreographer Eric Bean, Jr. When Don Quixote first dons his knightly persona and his suit of armor, he and his squire Sancho Panza mount their horses, played here by two ensemble members in horse masks and woven ponchos who perform a delightful high-kicking dance. Don Quixote's battle with the muleteers, his encounter with the Knight of the Mirrors, and the frenzied dance that precedes Aldonza's rape are executed with style. Somewhat less successful is the encounter with the Moors. Although the dance is well choreographed, the scene's overall effect is confusing. There is so much activity on stage that it is hard to know where to look. Adding to the muddle, the dancers (which the characters refer to variously as Africans or as gypsies) wear garb that looks more Indian than middle European.
Several of the vocalists are truly outstanding. As Don Quixote, opera singer R. Brodie Perry is mesmerizing; his voice could move mountains (as well as Red Rock Canyon). Another classically trained singer, Miguel Alasco, plays the Padre. His "To Each His Dulcinea" is hauntingly beautiful; a better rendition is hard to imagine. Carlos Arevalo as Pedro also has an exceptional voice. The other singers, male and female, are more than adequate, although Alexandra Ralph in the vocally demanding role of Aldonza/Dulcinea struggles a bit in her upper register.
In contrast to the well-performed vocals, the book scenes are surprisingly weak. Many of them feel tentativeeither under-rehearsed or under-directed. In the deathbed scene, awkward staging means important lines are delivered away from the audience.
Many in the cast are simply better singers than actors. But others seem to be competent actors who haven't stepped up to the show's larger-than-life theatricality, perhaps due to a lack of directorial guidance. Some of the performers speak conversationally rather than theatrically, and lack stage presence. Just because you are miked doesn't mean you can play it small, especially in a large outdoor amphitheatre.
This discrepancy is particularly bizarre in Brody's case. He is almost two different performers. In the persona of the fearless Don Quixote, he commands the stage not only as a singer but also as an actor, embracing the larger-than-life nature of his role. But when he morphs back into his alter egos Quijana and Cervantes, Brody comes across as a complete rookie at dramatic and comedic acting. While they may not have operatic dimensions, in a stage production even the most "ordinary" characters need theatricality. Others who have crossed over from opera to musical comedy have commented on just how challenging this can be. With a voice as beautiful as Brody's, a little cross-training could make him the go-to leading man for stage musicals of all description.
Among the other performers, the unassured acting even afflicts some of the musical numbers. As a result, some of the show's much-needed comedy is lost. "I'm Only Thinking of Him," a delicious ode to hypocrisy and selfishness set in a confessional, simply doesn't deliver. And Sancho, Don Quixote's endearing squire and sidekick, should provide broad comic relief, but rather than embracing the character's clownish nature, Josh Meurer plays him as too much the everyman.
Glenn Heath, always a reliable actor/singer with fine stage presence, fares better in his dual roles as the "governor" of the imprisoned petty thieves and the innkeeper who hosts Don Quixote during the latter's exploits. In both his songs and his book scenes, Heath is smooth and assured. He does a fine job with the comic number "Knight of the Woeful Countenance." Even Heath, though, could amp things up a bit.
As Aldonza, Ralph has the necessary stage presence, but for much of the evening she fails to convey the character's world-weariness. Her frustration and fascination with Don Quixote come across more as teenage angst than the reaction of a battered woman born into sexual slavery, who knows that opening her heart will only lead to greater pain. Ultimately, however, Ralph delivers both emotionally and vocally in her 11 o'clock number, "Aldonza," and returns for the deathbed scene with a deepened sense of character.
Youngster Scott O'Brien does a memorable turn in the relatively small role of the barber. From the moment he breezes onto the stage in full song, he is brimming with theatrical energy. His performance is assured and natural, and perfectly scaled for a big musical in an outdoor amphitheatre. Hopefully he will grace the Valley's stages in future productions.
Evan Bartoletti's multi-level set design is wonderful, with geometric latticework suggesting prison cells, and an upper platform that allows for dramatic entrances. Ellen Bone's lighting design creatively evokes Don Quixote's windmill nemesis as well as stained glass windows for the confessional scene; a vivid infusion of blood red lighting heightens the drama of the muleteers' pre-rape dance. The uncredited props designer deserves high marks for Don Quixote's (post-windmill) corkscrew sword and creatively-bandaged lance.
In contrast to many productions in the Valley, the entire cast enunciates clearly in both songs and dialogue, and Katherine Gonzalez's sound design prevents the orchestra from drowning out the singers. Thanks to orchestrations by Martin Laniel and music direction by Susan Easter, the three-piece band (Martin Laniel, Elvis Lederer, Macienzy Kahl) punches well above its weight, proving that even the tiniest live orchestra beats the heck out of recorded tracks.
Man of La Mancha continues through August 26, 2017, (Wednesday-Saturday at 8:05 pm) at the Super Summer Theatre at Spring Mountain Ranch State Park, 6375 NV Route 159, Las Vegas, NV (on Blue Diamond Road, in the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, just north of Bonnie Springs Ranch). For tickets ($15 in advance, $20 day of show) and further information, go to www.supersummertheatre.org.
Don Quixote/Cervantes: R. Brodie Perry
Additional Crew: Costume coordination by Sandra Huntsman and Douglas Baker