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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Man of La Mancha at Village Theatre

Also see David's reviews of The O'Conner Girls and Thoroughly Modern Millie

Man of La ManchaThough this venerable warhorse musical of the 1960s didn't spawn a national tour from after its indifferently received recent Broadway revival, Man of La Mancha is alive and well in director David Bennett's expertly staged production at Issaquah's Village. Village is better known for lighter fare, such as their recent Annie and upcoming How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, so their regular audiences may not hump to attending this darker-hued, if uplifting, offering. That would be a pity, as this is one of the finest musicals staged in the company's twenty-five year history.

Dale Wasserman's play-within-a-play format has playwright Miguel Cervantes use his tale of Don Quixote de La Mancha (actually an elderly and hallucinatory squire named Alonzo Quixana) to stay alive in a dungeon full of assorted murderers, thieves, and other political prisoners awaiting trial by the Spanish inquisition. Cervantes' porter becomes Quixote's trusted cohort Sancho, and the other characters are played by the other prisoners who are holding his script hostage while judging him in their own sort of trial.

Director Bennett keeps the convention of playing the show without intermission, and it scarcely feels its nearly two hour running time. Musical director Bruce Monroe and a spot on group of musicians play Mitch Leigh's still haunting score beautifully, and Kathryn Van Meter provides rousingly athletic choreography.

In the demanding leading role, Timothy McCuen Piggee acts the eccentric knight errant with theatrical bravado tinged with sympathy, and delivers all of his music admirably, with particularly outstanding renditions of the wistful "Dulcinea" and the show's hallmark anthem "The Impossible Dream." He is matched in intensity of performance by Charlie Parker as his Aldonza/Dulcinea, who has come a long, long way since an early Village role as one of the three street urchins in Little Shop of Horrors several seasons ago. Parker (who recently covered the role of Effie for Frenchie Davis in 5th Avenue's Dreamgirls) clearly has the dramatic chops for this challenging role, but what really impresses here is the vocal ease with which she negotiates Leigh's rangy score on her major solos "It's All The Same," "What Do You Want of Me?" and especially the dramatically exhausting "Aldonza." From low earthy alto notes to high lyric soprano, Parker has done her homework and the result is pretty amazing.

With only one vocal solo, the beautiful "To Each His Dulcinea," Neil Badders also makes a big impression as the Padre who understands and sympathizes with Quixana's dream of being Quixote. Allan Galli offers an amusing and empathetic Sancho, though he is vocally the least assured of the principal cast members (and unfortunately saddled with lyricist Joe Darion's tepid comedy numbers). Peter Crook subtly underplays the role of Cervantes/Quixote's adversary Dr. Carrasco to good effect. Eric Jensen is robust and vocally assured as the Innkeeper, and Bobbi Kotula is a comic firecracker as his shrewish wife, as well as delivering some sublime vocalese at the top of the show (a nice addition by director Bennett).

Billie Wildrick is appealing as the old squire's niece Antonia, and Frances Leah King creates a most memorable contrast between her wild-eyed prisoner watching the action from the sidelines and the very proper housekeeper she portrays in the Quixote tale. Chad Jennings brings a delicious and uniquely sinister twinkle in his eye to the small role of the barber. The ensemble men expertly execute not only Van Meter's dance moves, but also David Boushey's fight choreography, and Angela Marie Falivena warrants a special mention for her bravura turn in the exciting Moorish dance sequence.

Edie Whitsett's scenic design is a remarkably fine achievement, for once not just a retread of the original Broadway set, but a more original vision of a dungeon which transforms into the various locales in the tale of Don Quixote, masterfully enhanced by M.L. Geiger's impeccable lighting design, and Lynda L. Salsbury's excellent costumes. This Man of La Mancha is truly a man for all seasons!

Man of La Mancha runs through April 25 at Village Theatre 303 Front St in Issaquah, and April 30-May 16 at Everett Performing Arts Center in 2710 Wetmore Avenue, in Everett, Wa. For further information visit the Village Theatre online at www.villagetheatre.org.


Photo: ©Village Theatre



- David-Edward Hughes



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