Regional Reviews: Boston
Man of La Mancha
Man of La Mancha is the Broadway installment within the Don Quixote corpus; the Tony Award winning musicala combined effort among Dale Wasserman (book), Mitch Leigh (music), and Joe Darion (lyrics)is adapted from Wasserman's live, non-musical teleplay, which aired on CBS in 1959 and was in turn inspired by Miguel de Cervantes' classic seventeenth-century novel. The musical itself is fittingly self-referential: Cervantes, the protagonist, is imprisoned during the Spanish Inquisition, and while awaiting his hearing he and his fellow prisoners perform a play within the play about the would-be knight Don Quixote, whom our fictionalized Cervantes portrays.
The format, while multilayered, is not unwieldy. It reminds me of productions of Peter Pan I've seen, where the characters onstage are themselves playacting, pulling together makeshift costumes and set pieces, flickering in and out of their own theatrical world, and it enhances the imaginative, somewhat magical sensibilities of Cervantes/Don Quixotea "pursuer of lofty undertakings," as his companion Sancho Panza describes him.
Maurice Emmanuel Parent leads the way as Cervantes and Don Quixote, alternating between the two characters as seamlessly as he does between belting melodramatic songs and delivering refined, calmer beats. Parent performed previously in New Rep's The Gift Horse, The Snow Queen, and Camelot, among others; he is a resident company member with Actors' Shakespeare Project and recipient of Elliot Norton, IRNE, and ArtsImpulse Awards. It's through his character(s) that the production walks the line between inspirational optimism and unrealistic, even blind, idealism; they're having fun playacting as knights and noble ladies, but they're still in prison, after all. Is this a temporary, and ultimately foolish, distraction from bleak reality, or an aspiration to a higher mode of being? This is the driving question, one that Parent carries adeptly on his shoulders throughout, managing to imbue even over-the-top Don Quixote with powerful, nuanced emotion.
Michael Levesque plays Cervantes' secretary/Don Quixote's companion Sancho Panza: down-to-earth, desperately loyal, and the perfect foil to Cervantes. This is Levesque's New Rep debut, with previous credits including Altar Boyz (Greater Boston Stage Company) and Next to Normal, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, and Far From Heaven (SpeakEasy Stage Company). He is extremely likeable, earnest, and spends most of the play strumming either a guitar or ukulele with wonderful, charming effect. When the story demands it, though, Levesque might surprise youand will certainly move youwith his capacity for depth. The supporting ensemble members all bring unique energy and character to the production, regardless of how much or little dialogue they have. Ivy Ryan (BFA in Acting, Boston University, and formerly of New Rep's Classic Repertory Company touring productions), whose prisoner is constantly curious, good-humored, and eager to participate, proves her vocal talent in the lilting, humorous number "I'm Only Thinking of Him." Also featured in that song is Stefan Barner as Father Pérez, who almost steals a few numbers with his powerful voice (previous credits, unsurprisingly, are rife with national and international opera performances).
Like its titular "man," the entire production is buzzing with energy, permeated with rich music (featuring live, on-stage accompaniment in addition to many actors passing around instruments), and reaching for nobility and justice despite the obstacles and pains life throws in the way.
Man of La Mancha, through December 24, 2017, in the MainStage theater at the Mosesian Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal Street, Watertown MA. Tickets are $22-$72 and may be purchased by calling the New Rep box office at 617-923-8487 or visiting newrep.org. Student, senior, and group discounts are available, as are subscription packages.