Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Man of La Mancha
Also see Gil's review of Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin
Based on the novel by Miguel de Cervantes, Dale Wasserman's touching and moving book includes a few moments of comedy and incorporates Cervantes as the main character who is imprisoned during the Spanish Inquisition. While he is waiting to be tried, he must defend his prized manuscript in a mock trial by his fellow prisoners in the dungeon where they are being held. Cervantes woos the inmates by telling the story of Don Quixote, the aging "mad" knight who travels with his squire Sancho and believes he has found the woman of his dreams, Dulcinea, in the kitchen wench Aldonza. While the story is a little convoluted and confusing, the musical features a lush, melodic score with music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion that includes the well-known song "The Impossible Dream" and a "play within a play" device that has Cervantes taking on the role of Quixote and all of the prisoners playing parts in his play.
Director D. Scott Withers has found an incredibly talented cast to bring this well-loved story to life. Rusty Ferracane is Cervantes and he brings an elegance and grace to the part. When he "becomes" Don Quixote, he transforms seamlessly before our eyes into the much older nobleman. The love he displays for the people he encounters and the passion he shows for Dulcinea make us believe in his quest and ready to join him on his journey. Ferracane is exceptional in portraying the balance between the sane and crazy sides of Quixote. His powerful voice not only sounds excellent on all of his songs but he also brings the same passion and beauty to his dialogue delivery. It is a well thought out performance that is remarkably delivered and deserving of much praise.
As Aldonza, Janine Colletti is earthy, gritty, and full of fire. She instills every line reading, facial expression, and body movement with a passion equal to Ferracane's take on Cervantes. While her opera-trained, lilting soprano voice is a bit different from the women I've seen play this part before, and it does bring a different sound to a couple of Aldonza's songs, especially her first one, "It's All the Same," since her singing voice is stunningly sweet and not as rough as her speaking voice, Colletti compensates for this with impeccable delivery of each nuanced lyric. When Colletti and Ferracane share a duet of "Impossible Dream" toward the end of the show, it is stirring, touching and full of emotion due to their outstanding performances.
The rest of the cast is up to the challenge to deliver performances to match both Ferracane and Colletti. Rob Allocca brings a sweet charm to Sancho and, fortunately, doesn't overplay the comic bits. Allocca makes you believe that he will do anything for Cervantes, simply because of his devotion to the man, even when it is obvious that Cervantes isn't just a dreamer but is in fact mad. Jeremie McCubbin, Brandi Bigley, and Beth Anne Johnson form a formidable trio during "I'm Only Thinking of Him." McCubbin also gets a solo movement to shine, which he does well, with a sweet and heartfelt "To Each His Dulcinea." And while Bigley and Johnson play small roles, they play them with refined relish and zest, and both women have rich, lovely voices. Brett Aiken, who also designed the excellent set, plays the Duke and Dr. Carrasco with a steely sense of authority and Brandon Zale adds a nice touch of humor to the Governor and Innkeeper, especially in his joyful "Knight of the Woeful Countenance" solo. Josh Vern plays several small parts with success, including a couple of touching solo singing moments, and Tina Khalil is very funny as an agitated wife. The entire cast, from leads to ensemble, all have great voices that bring a rich, beautiful sound to every musical number.
Withers elicits superb reactions from the entire ensemble, even when they are off to the sides observing the action. He also works well in having the whole cast deliver well thought out characters, whether small parts who mostly stay in the shadows like Bigley, or slightly crazy ones like Johnson's. Withers delivers a fluid, yet tight production, full of plenty of poignancy as well as moments of humor and even a bit of danger. His staging uses every inch of the multi-layer set effectively. Only the one comical fight sequence is a bit disjointed and unfocused. The decision to perform the play without an intermission, as it was originally done fifty years ago, means the momentum doesn't stop, which is a very good thing. Choreographer Katrina Sanders' dances flow organically out of the dialogue and musical sequences. Music Director Steve Hilderbrand achieves some lovely vocals from the cast and also conducts the superb fifteen piece orchestra, that delivery a full, gorgeous sound.
Technical aspects are exceptional. Aiken's superb set design includes numerous steps, a drawbridge, cells, and stone walls. Jeff Davis' lighting is brilliant, painting the set in ever-changing deep, rich shades of blue, purple, red and green, always effectively pinpointing the areas we should focus on. The combination of Aiken's set, Davis' lighting and the moody sound design from Matthew Sanders pulls you into this underground dungeon and immediately into the story. Tamara Treat's lush costumes include bits of what seems like just about every fabric imaginable and, with the addition of Jacob Hamilton's effective hair and make-up. it all comes together in designs with plenty of character specific details.
While Man of La Mancha is now fifty years old and Cervantes' novel was written five hundred years ago, the tale of one man's quest and his dreams and the message of hope still resonates today. With a production that hits the mark in every way imaginable, Theater Works' Man of La Mancha is memorable, moving and simply extraordinary.
Man of La Mancha runs through October 25th, 2015, at Theater Works at 8355 West Peoria Avenue in Peoria. Tickets can be ordered at theaterworks.org or by calling 623 815-7930
Directed by D. Scott Withers
*member, Actors' Equity Association