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Man of La Mancha

Man of La Mancha
Brent Spiner and Julia Migenes
Brent Spiner understands the leading role in Man of La Mancha. Sure, he's outsung by everyone else on stage, but he makes up for it with a completely engaging portrayal of the part. As Cervantes, he's a bit pompous. Although he finds himself imprisoned as any other criminal, Cervantes still feels a bit superior to the more common among them. When he involves the other inmates in a retelling of the story he's written, there's an element of patronizing educator in the way Spiner's Cervantes assigns them their roles and sets the stage. But when Cervantes portrays Alonso Quijana, the man who irrationally imagines himself as the knight errant Don Quixote, Spiner's Quijana is so committed to his delusion, so blissfully unaware of how ridiculous he looks, so devoted to living up to the standards he has set for himself, he makes the audience believe in Quixote, too. And if his singing is less than stellar when he launches into the title song, it's instantly forgivable because Quijana's fantasy is certainly big enough to encompass a belief that he's a stirring vocalist as well as a valiant knight.

Of course, it almost isn't fair that he's paired with an opera singer. Julia Migenes plays Aldonza, the serving girl/prostitute whom Quixote believes is a high-born lady. Migenes first appears singing "It's All the Same," while flirting with a table of rough Muleteers. Her vocal is powerful, and her portrayal spot-on. Even though Aldonza is comically putting down all the men, there's an underlying sexual tension to the number, and it's clear that Aldonza's superiority is only by leave of the men. And once Quixote decides that Aldonza is his beautiful Dulcinea, Migenes—ever so briefly at first—replaces Aldonza's world-weary grin with a genuine smile lit from within. There's no deep psychological interpretation at work in Migenes's approach to Aldonza—this is simply a woman who has never been told that she's beautiful or worthy of respect, and when she finally hears it, even from a lunatic, she is transformed. It seems so simple, but there's a truth here, and it's powerful. If anything, Migenes overplays things by getting a tad too physical with her emotional displays; she doesn't need to—we're crying already.

The rest of the company is top drawer. Lee Wilkof brings the comic relief as Sancho Panza; George Ball is delightful as the kindly innkeeper; and Robert Mammana is terrific as the understanding Padre—his delicate "To Each His Dulcinea" is a thing of beauty. Kitty McNamee's choreography is at its best when it's not trying to be funny—the slapstick fight Quixote has with the Muleteers is way too slow to actually land (and some of the Muleteers display an elegance of movement that seems out of place); the "Abduction" is much more effective.

The show opens with the cast appearing onstage without any dimming of the lights or pre-show announcement. Lap-Chi Chu's lights play off Tom Buderwitz's columnar set in ways that are somehow both oppressive and suggestive of hope. Director Michael Michetti is doing a rather brilliant job of setting a mood here ... and then it is all shot to hell with the pre-show announcement. The show recovers, but if there is any way for the ushers to tell people about the exits (and to turn off their cell phones) to avoid the pre-show announcement, the production would be better for it. This Man of La Mancha runs without intermission—interrupting our journey into Cervantes's world at the top of the show defeats the purpose and momentarily destroys the illusion.

Man of La Mancha runs through March 1 at UCLA's Freud Playhouse.  For tickets and information, see www.reprise.org.

Reprise Theatre Company -- Jason Alexander, Artistic Director; Susan Dietz, Producing Director; Danny Feldman, Managing Director -- presents Man of La Mancha. Written by Dale Wasserman; Music by Mitch Leigh; Lyrics by Joe Darion. Scenic Design Tom Buderwitz; Costume Design Garry Lennon; Lighting Design Lap-Chi Chu; Sound Design Philip G. Allen; Associate Music Director Matthew Smedal; Music Coordinator Joe Soldo; Technical Director Chris Batstone; Production Stage Manager Vernon Willet; Casting Director Michael Donovan, CSA; Press Representative Davidson & Choy Publicity; Marketing Allied Live; director of Development Christine Bernardi; Production Coordinator Rob Rudolph. Musical Direction by Brad Ellis; Choreographed by Kitty McNamee; Directed by Michael Michetti.

Cast:
Miguel de Cervantes (who also plays Alonso Quijana/Don Quixote) - Brent Spiner
Escalante (who also plays Aldonza/Dulcinea) - Julia Migenes/Valerie Perri (matinees)
Cervantes' Manservant (who also plays Sancho Panza) - Lee Wilkof
The Governor (who also plays the Innkeeper) - George Ball
The Duke (who also plays Dr. Carrasco) - Christopher Guilmet
Judas Macabeo (who also plays the Padre, and Muleteer Tenorio) - Robert Mammana
Graciosa (who also plays Antonia, and Fermina the Serving Girl) - Maegan McConnell
Mother Bane (who also plays the Housekeeper, and Maria the Innkeeper's Wife) - Wendy Worthington
El Médico (who also plays the Barber, and Muleteer Juan) - John Kassir
The Scorpion (who also plays Muleteer Pedro) - Sam Zeller
Lobillo (who also plays Muleteer Anselmo) - Daniel Guzman
The Gypsy (who also plays Muleteer José - Ethan Le Phong
Torito (who also plays Muleteer Paco) - Stefan Raulston
Captain of the Inquisition - Thomas Fiscella
Guard - Brad Culver
Guard - John Todd


Photo: JohnGanun.com


- Sharon Perlmutter






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