Drawn from by Miguel de Cervantes' epic novel Don Quixote and based more directly on the teleplay I, Don Quixote, Man of La Mancha brings the 16th century story of Cervantes, a man who does not let reality stand in the way of his dreams.
Playwright, poet, and most recently tax collector Cervantes finds himself in a Spanish prison awaiting trial for offenses against the Church. His fellow inmates are a rough bunch, and they choose to "acquire" Cervantes' material possessions, including his manuscript of Don Quixote. In a mock trial before his fellow prisoners, Cervantes offers as his defense: the acting out of his story of "tilting at windmills," or making an adventure of following a vision undaunted by reason, even when faced directly with the face of failure. Using makeup, costumes, and handy props, Cervantes becomes Don Quixote (actually transforms, due to simple but very effective makeup) and, accompanied by the inmates and his manservant, presents an inspiring tale. By tale's end, Cervantes' fate to face trail by the Inquisition is unchanged, but the minds and souls of the prisoners are profoundly changed.
On an impressive set by James Noone, the cast brings to life a play-within-a-play. Brian Sutherland (The Sound of Music, 1776, Victor/Victoria, Steel Pier on Broadway) is a wonderful Cervantes/Quixote. He does not overpower the cast, rather he presents a quieter, gentler figure, and is firmly convincing in his committment to his quest, whether fueled by faith or madness. Sutherland's portrayal, as well as his singing, is compassionate and real, making the turnabout in the prisoners quite believable. Tari Kelly is the bar wench Aldonza, viewed as "fair virgin" Dulcinea by Quixote. Kelly wrings ferocious pathos from her character, showing the damaged side of Aldonza. It is with anguish that she takes on Cervantes' vision at the end of the play. She is a soul saved.
Standouts in the supporting cast include Avery Saltzman (who was very entertaining in the Public's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum a few years ago) as Sancho Panza, Cervantes' manservant. He is comical yet not too "broad," and contributes delightfully to many of the songs. Tim Salamandyk as The Padre brings the most glorious voice in the cast. His beautiful tenor is a vocal highlight of the show. Several local actors provide their dependably first-rate performances; in fact the entire supporting cast is top notch, comparable to that of the Public's superb H.M.S. Pinafore of last season (and several members played in both companies).
Costuming by Gabriel Berry is excellent overall, despite a few suspicious pairs of pants that look like Levi's with the pockets cut off. The lighting design of Kirk Bookman meshes perfectly with Noone's set, making the most of the limited thrust stage. And Zach Moore's sound design works with great effect, particularly during the lowering of the massive step bridge. Ted Pappas' direction and choreography are well done, as well, on this limited stage, making use of every inch yet never seeming to need more. The eight piece orchestra, hidden from view and directed by musical director F. Wade Russo, adds an amazing depth to the Mitch Leigh/Joe Darion score, which includes the legendary classic, "The Impossible Dream."
The Pittsburgh Public Theater presents Man of La Mancha through March 2nd at the O'Reilly Theatre. Performances are Tuesday Saturday at 8 p.m.; Sunday performances at 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday matinees at 2 p.m. on February 15, 22 and March 1; Thursday matinee at 2 p.m. on February 27; the Tuesday, February 25 performance begins at 7 p.m. For ticket information, call 412-316-1600 or visit www.ppt.org.
Man of La Mancha. Written by Dale Wasserman. Music by Mitch Leigh. Lyrics by Joe Darion. Directed and Choreographed by Ted Pappas. Musical Director F. Wade Russo. Scenic Design by James Noone. Costume design by Gabriel Berry. Lighting Design by Kirk Bookman. Sound Design by Zach Moore. Orchestrations by Christopher Jahnke. Fight Choreography by Shaun J. Rolly.
Cast (in order of appearance): Brian Sutherland, Avery Saltzman, Tari Kelly, Jeffrey Howell, Daniel Krell, Tim Salamandyk, Laura Yen Solito, Gina Ferrall, Larry Daggett, Erik Nelson, Greg Roderick, Dan Conville, Mark Martino, Howard Kaye, Todd M. Kryger, Terry Wickline, Cindy Marchionda.