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Man of La Mancha

With Man of La Mancha, the Arroyo Repertory Theatre attempts to take a step forward into performing musicals, and ends up taking a step back. While Arroyo Rep's ambition is admirable, its production is at best uneven, and at worst amateurish.

The main problem with the show is its casting of Doug Rynerson as Cervantes and Don Quixote; he is simply out of his depth. Rynerson approaches the Mitch Leigh/Joe Darion score as though actually hitting each of the notes is the only requirement to successfully singing the role, rather than a solid first step. While his pitch is generally accurate, he sings with no emotion or conviction, and his unremarkable voice is not beautiful enough to make his cold rendition of Quixote's songs attention-holding. This leads to the surprising state of affairs that the muleteers' mocking reprise of Quixote's tribute to his lady, "Dulcinea" is much more entertaining than Quixote's supposed tender rendition. The muleteers bring power and spirit to their verse, which is wholly lacking from Rynerson's performance.

Man of La Mancha
Pia Glenn (Aldonza) and Tom Vick (Pedro)
Other performers fare substantially better. Pia Glenn (Aldonza) has a lovely soprano voice which can sing everyone else in this cast under the table. Her songs are glorious reminders of how incredible this score really is. Unfortunately, Glenn acts Aldonza with a single emotion - anger - and her failure to go deeper into despair when necessary prevents her from evoking the audience's sympathy. Reggie De Leon does a successful job with both the songs and comedy of Sancho, although his unamplified voice is frequently drowned out by the two-piece band (piano and drums). The show's best performance comes from Gary Steelman as the kindly Innkeeper who accepts Quixote's insanity with good humor. Steelman doesn't overplay things, convincingly delivering every one of the Innkeeper's put-upon eye-rolls, and when he finally sings, he lets loose a warm, rich voice which makes one ask why he ended up cast in a part with only one song.

Director Jude Lucas has approached the production with a sensibility that is most often seen in student productions. Lucas seems to make it a priority for each cast member to always have something to do - even when it is at the expense of the production. Thus, two cast members are assigned the roles of Quixote's horse and Sancho's mule, and they follow Quixote and Sancho on their journeys, frequently facing their animal heads at each other and nodding their disbelief. Their comic antics earn no laughs, and they are wholly superfluous. The problem arises again when Quixote sings his reprise of the title song, only to be upstaged by an ensemble member sitting on the side of the stage, nodding his agreement with every line. If Rynerson had a more magnetic delivery, he might not be upstaged by all these peripheral characters, but as things stand, attention should not be diverted in so many different directions.

There are several other minor problems, many of which could be immediately corrected: the band needs to lower its volume, particularly when playing under dialogue. The show's intermission isn't well marked; the audience didn't realize the actors hadn't simply exited through the audience for another scene. When Quixote finally faces his nemesis, the other knight's lines are read by an offstage actor; had he been given a microphone, and maybe a little reverb, Quixote's frightened reaction would have been genuinely motivated. Finally, the actors spend the bulk of their curtain call just standing there; they should sing a rousing rendition of the title song instead.

The Arroyo Repertory's production of Man of La Mancha is not what it could be. There is nothing inherently wrong with a small-scale production with two musical instruments and no dancing. But, with few exceptions, the Arroyo Rep has paired its limited production values with limited performances, resulting in a largely forgettable production. Man of La Mancha plays at the Arroyo Repertory Theatre in Pasadena through February 22. Performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., Sundays at 7:00 p.m. $18. Special performance Thursday, January 23 at 8:00 p.m. - admission is two cans of food. Reservations and information: (626) 398-6522. www.arroyorepertorytheatre.com

The Arroyo Repertory Theatre presents Man of La Mancha. Book by Dale Wasserman; Music by Mitch Leigh; Lyrics by Joe Darion. Direction and Set Design by Jude Lucas; Choreography by Peter Fields; Scenic Artists Gary White, John Serembe, Lynette Charters; Props by Gary White, Tom Price; Lighting Design Doug Rynerson; Pianist Nancy Ramos; Percussion Stephen Dweck; Music Director Art James; Set Construction David Rynerson, Doug Rynerson, Tom Price, Larry Kilgore, Will Lucas, Neil Reinhold, Alexander Rynderson; Master Carpenter Tom Price; Costume Design ART Design Studio; Costume Construction Cheri Hurst, Suzy James; Stage Manager Will Lucas; House Manager Felipe Galvez; Sound Design Kevin Crowley; Art Design/Graphics John Serembe; Press relations Philip Sokoloff.

Cast:
Don Quixote/Cervantes - Doug Rynerson
Sancho/Manservant - Reggie De Leon
Captain of the Inquisition/Tenorio - Tom Price
Aldonza - Pia Glenn
Governor/Innkeeper - Gary Steelman
Duke/Dr. Carrasco - Neil Reinhold
The Padre - Andreas Cerdan
Antonia - Nicole Wessel
Housekeeper/Fermina - Jennifer Clinton
Barber - Mueen J. Ahmad
Pedro - Tom Vick
Anselmo/Guitarist - Verno Urquiza
Maria - Mariela Jaliquias
Pablo/Man of the Inquisition - Alex Kozushin
Juan - Russel Ramirez
Paco - Felipe Galvez
Poncho - Alexander Rynerson
Horse - Jennifer Lee
Mule - Monet Hurst-Mendoza
Muleteers/Prisoners - Jill Joyce, Elizabeth Roland, Rick Warren


Be sure to check the current schedule for theatre in the Los Angeles area.


- Sharon Perlmutter




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