Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires


Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol

Man of La Mancha
Barrington Stage Company

Also see Fred's review of And a Nightingale Sang


Felicia Boswell and Jeff McCarthy
Barrington Stage Company, based in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, presents Man of La Mancha, and gives it a gorgeous, driven production through July 11th. It was five decades ago that the musical was staged Off Broadway and then on Broadway. Julianne Boyd's version is gloriously stunning both in performance and physical appearance. Thus, this impossible dream's promise is very much realized.

Starring is Jeff McCarthy as Miguel de Cervantes and Don Quixote. It all begins in 1605 as the writer and tax collector Cervantes has been imprisoned during the Spanish Inquisition. He and his Manservant (Tom Alan Robbins), who also plays Sancho Panza, will be subjected to some sort of trial by others who are already jailed. Given the opportunity to defend himself, Cervantes attaches false eyebrows, mustache, and beard and becomes Alonso Quijana who is, in turn, renamed Don Quixote de La Mancha. The dedicated and comic Sancho Panza attaches himself to Quixote through adventures—a story that takes place within the scope of the overall musical. Quixote, an idealist, will chase a windmill, muse on the improbable, and personify an individual who is heroic. In Cervantes' novel "Don Quixote," Aldonza (Felicia Boswell) has been a prostitute, a wench who serves. Quixote, the errant knight, renames her Dulcinea, and he thinks of her as a refined woman. Aldonza is perplexed and disbelieving, at first, but then she appreciates Quixote. He is certain that this is a woman of beauty and he has a devotion to her. Early on, McCarthy sings "Dulcinea" with great affection.

Obviously, Sancho Panza's part is of great import and Robbins excels in the role. When he sings "I Really Like Him" about Quixote, a catchy tune, one tends to believe him. He cannot explain just why he gravitates to his "master." It is simply true. Sean McLaughlin is effective as Dr. Carrasco as is actor Ed Dixon, who plays the Innkeeper. Dixon, Boswell, and Robbins combine their voices when they describe Quixote as the "Knight of the Woeful Countenance." Carrasco hopes to assist Quixote in perceiving reality rather than illusory objects. Actor Todd Horman's Padre, too, tries to reason with the knight. Then again, Padre feels that Quixote might have a vision of benefit to others. Thus, "To Each His Dulcinea."

Man of La Mancha was performed at Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut, in 1965 before it made its way to New York City. Dale Wasserman wrote the book for the show while Mitch Leigh composed music and Joe Darion provided lyrics. Boyd's rendering and music direction by Darren R. Cohen combine to fuel a spirited, tight, concise presentation, one which does not fall prey to schmaltz.

Many recall the musical as everlasting through its famous number, "The Impossible Dream." McCarthy, with a strong baritone voice, delivers this with declaration and vigor. He is always resonant and he milks not one moment—all to the good.

James Kronzer, designing, has created a curved rear stone-like wall, metal or wrought iron bars, and an upper tier to enable prisoners to be led in and out. They proceed downward to the dungeon area where the action occurs. The set is huge and ominous and, before one word is uttered, atmosphere has been created. The costumes devised by Olivera Gajic evoke the 17th century and this includes attire for prisoners, those driving mules, people outfitted in armor, and so on.

The ensemble of supportive players in this Broadway-caliber Man of La Mancha are both vivid and essential. Those embodying Quixote, Sancho, and Dulcinea, though, deserve special recognition. McCarthy's leading man is admirable, deep feeling, and, in a sense, charismatic. He cuts a sympathetic central figure. Robbins finds and personifies the humorous, soulful edge within Sancho Panza, a man who is steadfastly dedicated. Boswell is a casting find for Aldonza/Dulcinea. The strength of her performance is her versatility. She is initially agitated and, finally, gentle and sweet. Her voice does best in mid-register; she stretches just a bit to reach high notes.

Julianne Boyd makes the decision to run her performance for an hour and forty-five minutes straight through, without intermission. This enables the recognizable musical to feel newly refreshed. Boasting outstanding production and performance elements, this show is an impassioned treat.

Man of La Mancha continues on the Boyd-Quinson Mainstage at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, Massachusetts through July 11th, 2015. For tickets, call (413) 236-8888 or visit www.barringtonstageco.org.


Photo: Kevin Sprague

- Fred Sokol


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