Man of La Mancha
Also see John's review of Fiddler on the Roof
The Maltz Jupiter Theatre presents the musical Man of La Mancha. With book by Dale Wasserman, lyrics by Joe Darion and music by Mitch Leigh, Man of La Mancha originally opened on Broadway on November 22, 1965, and ran for 2,328 performances. The production went on to win five Tony Awards, and was later revived on Broadway in 1972, 1977, 1992 and 2002.
Set in the time of Spanish Inquisition in the late 1600s, Man of La Mancha tells the story of the novel Don Quixote as a play within a play. An actor/author turned tax collector named Miguel de Cervantes is thrown into prison for foreclosing on a church for non-payment. As he and his manservant await sentencing by the Spanish Inquisition, they are set upon by their fellow inmates, who seize the manuscript of his latest work. The fellow inmates propose a mock trial in which Cervantes must defend himself. If he loses, he must turn over all his possessions, including the manuscript, to the other inmates. Cervantes enlists the help of all of the inmates, aided by his trunk of costumes, props and makeup, to help him act out his story.
Cervantes transforms himself into a noble, aged gentleman named Alonso Quijana. Alonso holds so fast to tales of gallant chivalry that he determines to set forth as a knight-errant to right the injustices of the world. His vivid imagination, fueled by his many books and his mental frailty, lead him onward in his quest. Alonso renames himself Don Quixote de La Mancha and sets forth to find adventure with his squire Sancho Panza (Cervantes' manservant).
Alonso's ward and niece, Antonia, and his housekeeper both go to the local Padre to confess their fears regarding Alonso's dangerous behavior. It is apparent that the women are more concerned with what embarrassment Alonso's actions may bring to them, rather than his own welfare. Antonia does have much to lose, as her fiancé Dr. Sanson Carrasco will not tolerate the thought of marriage to Antonia if indeed Alonso is mad. Carrasco and the Padre set out to find and cure Alonso, and bring him back home.
Meanwhile, the newly named Don Quixote comes upon an inn populated by common muleteers. The inn's serving wench, Aldonza, is amidst her daily routine of tending to the muleteers' needs in whatever way profits her pockets. She is appropriately rough around the edges as befits a woman of her low stature. Don Quixote sees in Aldonza the fairest of flowers, for whom he would battle evil, and he calls her the lady Dulcinea in the song "Dulcinea." Don Quixote sends a missive to his Dulcinea (Aldonza) courting her favor. She is startled by his tender treatment of her, as it is not as she has been treated by others.
Don Quixote determines that the Innkeeper officially dub him a knight. Before that can happen he must stand vigil as if in a chapel. He sings of his quest for beauty in "The Impossible Dream." As he stands vigil, he sees Aldonza on her way to service the sexual needs of Pedro, the captain of the muleteers. Don Quixote detains her, and Pedro enters furious at being made to wait. He strikes Aldonza, and Don Quixote engages in battle against him in her defense. Sancho, Aldonza and Don Quixote manage to beat the muleteers.
The Innkeeper dubs Don Quixote "Knight of the Woeful Countenance" and tells him he must leave his inn due to the fight and damage he has caused. Before he goes, Don Quixote proposes ministering to the needs of the men they have wounded in battle as an act of kindness. Thinking he will surely be injured, Aldonza sends him on his way, then tends to the muleteers herself. The muleteers return her kindness with rape and abduction.
On the road, Don Quixote and Sancho are set upon by gypsies that steal all of their belongings. They return to the inn seeking aid and are met by a bitter and beaten Aldonza who has had her fill of Don Quixote's foolish dreams. A knight appears that is in reality Dr. Carrasco. Disguised as the Knight of Mirrors he reveals to Don Quixote all his delusions, returning him to being merely squire Alonso.
At this point, the story teller Cervantes says his story is ended, but the fellow inmates are unhappy with his ending, and the tale resumes.
Alonso is back in his own home. Once strengthened by his dreams, he is a feeble man broken in body mind and spirit now that they have been stripped away. His niece, housekeeper, the Padre and Dr. Carrasco are standing by his deathbed when Aldonza forces her way into the house. She has come to him because she wishes to be the Dulcinea of his imagination rather than Aldonza, but he does not even recognize her. She begs him to remember his impossibly beautiful vision of the world until he at last does for one final moment become Don Quixote. Alonso dies, but Dulcinea lives on, for as Sancho calls her by her true name, Aldonza, she declares "My name is Dulcinea."
Cervantes' story of Don Quixote ends, and the prisoners return his manuscript declaring him not-guilty. The guards enter to take Cervantes to be tried by the Spanish Inquisitors. As he ascends the staircase from their dungeon, the prisoners pay tribute to the spirit of Don Quixote and to Cervantes in singing "The Impossible Dream."
Michael Bottari and Ronald Case have designed a magnificence set for this production of Man of La Mancha at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre. Enhanced by Donald Edmund Thomas' lighting design it is most impressive and nearly flawless. The orchestration is very good, but would benefit from more layers and string usage. The ensemble, possessing an impressive list of Broadway credits, is surprisingly in need of louder male voices in the choral numbers, as the females overpower them. Devanand Jenki's choreography as performed by Nandita Shenoy in the Moorish dance sequence is lovely, and the staging of the rape sequence is emotionally effective without being offensive. The fight sequence, however, comes off as stilted and unfinished.
The strength of this production lies in the script itself, the well executed technical aspects of the show, and the wonderful performances of the supporting cast. Neal Benari as Miguel de Cervantes/ Alonso Quijana acts and sings the role well, though he is missing some of the polished accent of Don Quixote, and is a tad too youthful and energetic at the end of the show to believe that Don Quixote is dying. Alicia Irving gives us the believable frank roughness of Aldonza, but is missing the fleeting tenderness of the Dulcinea that lies inside her. She sings with power and passion, but spends too much of her energy making the transitions in and out of her chest and head voice.
Michael Lluberes is a lovable and comedic Sancho, with a singing voice as fine as his acting. David Villella as the Barber and Bertilla Baker as the Housekeeper are both very funny and very easy to watch. Peter Cormican as the Innkeeper has a surprisingly good rippling baritone voice in "Knight of Woeful Countenance." Vickie White as the skittish Antonia has a lovely soprano voice. John Paul Almon as the Padre sings with vocal technique but without the heart one would expect for this role. Michael Babin as the Duke/ Dr. Carrasco is just priggish and conceited enough to make one squirm. Dante Villella as Pedro has an interesting energy that is dangerously sensual and menacing. True to the original form in which the show was done, this performance is done in one act, without intermission. With a production of this quality, the time flies by leaving the audience wanting more.
Man of La Mancha will be appearing at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre from February 13, 2007 - March 4, 2007. The Maltz Jupiter Theatre is a 550-seat, nonprofit, community-based Equity regional theatre belonging to the League of Resident Theatres. This theatre employees both local and non-local Equity and non-union cast and crew members. The theatre is located at 1001 Indiantown Rd. (just off of A1A) in Jupiter, FL. Show times are Tuesday - Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., and Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:00 p.m.. For tickets to this show, and complete information on the theatre's offerings, you may contact them by phone at 561/ 575-3332 or 800/ 445-1666, and on line at www.jupitertheatre.org.
*Designates member of Actor's Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.