Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Man of La Mancha
This highly admirable production is part of a pattern, though. Like some futuristic, luxurious self-driving car, the well-moneyed Stages St. Louis can always get you from point A to point B in style and comfort, especially in a tried-and-true classic of musical theater. Yet you begin to wondernot about the artificial intelligence of this futuristic car, but about the artistic sensibility that makes it go. Their shows are always lovely to look at, but only rarely offer any new psychological ingenuity or insight. A lot of smaller theatre companies try a lot harder.
At Stages, you may find yourself on an unapologetic, driverless tour of a second-rate script's intellectual shortcuts through the storytelling equivalent of dimly lit warehouses and "relationship construction sites" that are often half-finished, as events clumsily unwind.
But the gas tank is always full, and the ride will be smooth and plush when you settle in. You just have to pick your excursions wisely, because the driving software can never tell the difference between a windblown skein of autumn leaves or a Brinks armored truck in your path. Either way, you're plowing ahead.
Among the recent "dead leaves" was the summer's The Boy from Oz. On the complete other end of the artistic spectrum, the armored truck, stuffed with riches, would be almost any Stages mounting of a classic Broadway musical, including this Man of La Mancha, the 33rd season closer. It gets an ebullient glow from Artistic Director Michael Hamilton, directing from his usual seat at the Kirkwood Community Center.
The lovely libretto by Dale Wasserman merges the life and writing of Miguel de Cervantes, accompanied by a score with music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion. The musical ran for more than 2,300 performances in its original production on Broadway, initially starring Richard Kiley. And in this mounting, the perihelion number, "The Impossible Dream," still inspires older gentlemen in the audience to sing along quietly in the dark. James Patterson, as Cervantes/Don Quixote, very nearly stopped the show singing it at the recent matinee I attended.
Mr. Patterson brings the full measure of musical fable along with him, and a good dose of rueful self-awareness, to a stage strewn with whips and chains and grave threats of Inquisitional wrath. Much of his own dialog seems etched in illuminated script, but it's punctuated with lots of down-to-earth jokes from the supporting cast. The music is both grand and intimate in the hands of this entrancing group. Amanda Robles is a stunning and tempestuous presence as Aldonza/Dulcinea, and Sean Jones lifts the mood whenever he comes on as sidekick Sancho Panza.
Steve Isom leads the dungeon inmates, a perfect naturalistic foil for Mr. Patterson's quixotic dreams. Ryan Jesse and Erik Keiser do well as the scientist and priest who trail Cervantes along, worried about his mental health (and his estate). And Ryan Cooper is great as the comical barber, who appears briefly later on. A chorus of handsome mule-drivers and beautiful wenches, and the occasional Inquisitor, add great atmosphere. This time, it's a grand tour of everything you want theater to be.
Man of La Mancha runs through October 6, 2019, Stages St. Louis, Robert G. Reim Theatre, Kirkwood Community Center, 111 South Geyer Rd., Kirkwood MO. For more information visit www.stagesstlouis.org.
Cast (in order of appearance):