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Philadelphia by Kelly Thunstrom

Man of La Mancha
The Dramateurs at the Barn Playhouse


Nina Harper, Jonathan Sills and Troy Fisher
It seems like all I'm hearing about these days are various area productions of Man of La Mancha, a stalwart in the musical theater realm. The original production in the 1960s, starring Richard Kiley, won multiple Tony Awards (including the biggest) and of course, one of the most enduring tunes comes from this show. Don Quixote's signature song, "The Impossible Dream," is sadly often used so that male singers can show off their voices in talent competitions. But the song is so much more than that, showing why Man of La Mancha deserves the legendary status it has attained.

The Dramateurs' version, directed by Eileen Ciccarone, with musical direction by Konnie Stark and scenic design by Rusty Muglia, found a real gem in Jonathan Sills (Don Quixote/Cervantes). I've seen this show before without a strong male lead, and it completely fell apart. Yes, Sills has the ultra-strong trained voice needed for the role, but most importantly, he is totally believable as the character. He is not playing dress-up; he transforms into Don Quixote, leaving 2014 behind for the late 16th century. From his voice to his facial expressions to his larger-than-life eyes, Sills is a real treat to see in this part. And his version of "The Impossible Dream" gave me the chills and made me teary. He truly deserved his standing ovation.

Nina Harper (Aldonza/Dulcinea) also proves why she is a veteran of the stage. Besides having a beautiful voice, she is completely natural, and in her version of "Aldonza," the audience can see beyond the shadow of a doubt that the character is a tortured soul. As Sancho the squire, Troy Fisher is fun in the role, but he really doesn't have the best material to work with. "I Really Like Him" and "A Little Gossip" are more like ditties than full musical songs.

The rest of the cast is quite good and work seamlessly together. However, in this show, your cast needs to be absolutely transformed into the end of the 16th century, from the proper facial expressions to the correct body language. They need to embrace the time frame that the production is set in. With the exception of Sills, I still felt like we were in 2014, so I would encourage the cast to work on that. This is much harder than it sounds, but it's part of the magic of the musical.

Man of La Mancha, written by Dale Wasserman, with music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion, is designed to be performed in one act with no intermission. Even though it can be difficult to sit for two hours straight, I was happy to see that Dramateurs did not insert a break, as I have seen some other productions do. This preserves the world of the Spanish prison as it's meant to be, without interruption.

Decades after the original Broadway run, productions of Man of La Mancha continue to enchant audiences everywhere. The production at the Barn Playhouse is no exception.

Man of La Mancha runs through September 6, 2014, at the Barn Playhouse, 1700 Christopher Street, West Norriton. Tickets are $18 and are available online at www.barnplayhouse.org, by phone 610-539-BARN, or in person at the Box Office.

The cast includes Jonathan Sills, Nina Harper, Troy Fisher, Steve Arcidiacono, Chris Exley, Rosemary Gehrlein, Pete Haas, Thom Harmon, Alex Jamison, Suzette Krausen, Robert Marsch, Ashley Miller, Kit Niesen, Michael Riggs, Maureen Scallatino, Doug Smith, and Lindsay Zimmerman.


Photo: Gabrielle Cherelli


-- Kelly Thunstrom



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