Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires
When the show begins, the audience is actually looking through a wall of prison bars to see the action onstage. While this way of beginning the musical can be a little off-putting, it certainly establishes the claustrophobic environment the people in the jail are suffering, and this sense of confinement is maintained, even after the wall of bars has been raised.
One of the most significant aspects of the scenic design is a monumental staircase that is lowered when the prison guards are either bringing a new prisoner down or summoning one to the upper level. As the production begins, Cervantes and his trusted friend Sancho Panza (the very funny Tony Manna) are brought down as the newest inmates, awaiting a trial. As it happens, Cervantes and Sancho must also enact a defense against another trial, of sorts, that their fellow prisoners bring upon them, as they are locked in the cell.
In a way, Man of La Mancha is actually a play within a play, and it works wonderfully well with this strong cast and the masterful handling of this musical. As mentioned, Philip Hernandez proves to be a thrilling Cervantes/Don Quixote and his singing of such songs as "The Impossible Dream" and "Man of La Mancha" is truly monumental. Even better, he is also capable of being enormously touching by the final scenes.
Along with the terrific Tony Manna as Sancho Panza, the most significant character onstage, besides Don Quixote, the kitchen maid, Aldonza. Treated roughly throughout, Gisela Adisa as Adisa manages to maintain her dignity and beauty even under the most horrid conditions. Don Quixote calls her "Dulcinea" and, even though she resists such a title, she eventually embrace sit as her own. This actress' greatest moments include her fierce opening song, "It's All the Same," as well as the introspective, "What Does He Want of Me," which reveals the woman behind the strong façade.
The large cast is uniformly fine and they all display powerful voices, as well as a collective stature and presence onstage that is pretty awesome. In supporting roles, Carlos Encinias is effective as the Padre, and it is the Barber (the delightful Esteban Suero) who eventually gives Don Quixote his prized possession, his golden helmet.
Director Mark Lamos has elicited excellent performances from everyone, and, along with his musical stager Marcos Santana, he is also responsible for keeping the show consistently vibrant.
Lighting designer Alan C. Edwards does an astonishing job illuminating the world onstage, and the precise and crisp sound design is courtesy of Dominic Sack. The fight direction by Michael Rossmer is astounding. The orchestra, which is placed at the extreme sides of the mezzanine, on either side of the stage, sounds splendid and the expert musical direction is by Andrew David Sotomayor.
As one watches Philip Hernandez portray the foolish, yet mighty, Don Quixote, there is the almost electric feeling onstage of a gifted actor taking on, and succeeding mightily, in one of the most iconic roles in Broadway musical history. Indeed, this sense of vitality shines from beginning to end in Westport Country Playhouse's superb production of Man of La Mancha.
Man of La Mancha, through October 14, 2018, at Westport Country Playhouse in Westport CT. For tickets, please visit www.westportplayhouse.org or call the box office at 203-227-4177.