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Man of La Mancha

Man of La Mancha
Justin Robertson, Davis Gaines and Lesli Margherita
Davis Gaines can sing. Lesli Margherita can sing. So, going in, you can be pretty sure that Musical Theatre West's production of Man of La Mancha will be well sung. And, indeed, it is. Gaines brings his powerful baritone to the party, and combines with a commitment to the role. His Cervantes is a jerk who feels superior to the men and women with whom he shares a prison, but his Don Quixote is a passionate idealist. For her part, Margherita is also a strong singer. Indeed, Aldonza's opener, "It's All the Same," is so powerfully delivered, I thought she had nowhere to go for the rest of the show, but she managed to crank things up to 11 for her fierce second-act "Aldonza."

This isn't just a two-person production; Gaines and Margherita are supported by many good singers, from the light voice of Karenssa Legear's not-entirely-altruistic Antonia to Richard Gould's gravelly-voiced, good-natured innkeeper. And there is an awful lot of brawny (and probably smelly) singing from the ensemble of muleteers. Vocally, it's hard to take issue with this production.

In several other ways, though, it doesn't quite come together. Accents are all over the place (Aldonza is Spanish, Cervantes is British, Sancho is American) with no apparent purpose. The show opens with some flamenco steps from some of the prisoners. The flamenco motif is very nice followed up with some of Carlos Mendoza's choreography for the "horses," but it doesn't continue, and, in retrospect, one wonders exactly why the prisoners were dancing anyway. The centerpiece of Kevin Clowes's set is a turntable, onto which a small cage descends from above, whenever the guards need to speak to, or take away, one of the prisoners. The sound effects (Julie Ferrin) of the clanking chains while the cage slowly descends are a nice touch, but the cage's progress is so slow as to actually delay the show. More than that, the cage appears to be limited in its capacity; when three guards descend to take a prisoner away, there isn't room in the cage for all four people to return, so the displaced guard has to sneak off into the wings (perhaps to a hidden staircase?) It's distracting, and it suggests that the production would have done better with a less ambitious, but more suitable, way to bring the guards in.

The cage isn't the only thing that's slow in this production. Man of La Mancha is a show with a lot of comedy in it—not really thigh-slapping laughs, but chuckles, surely. And, as a general rule, comedy doesn't get laughs when the audience sees it coming. Whenever Sancho tries to talk some sense into his crazy master, the dialogue doesn't fly with any sense of urgency, and the laughs don't follow. While I give credit for a nice bit of business regarding Quixote's post-windmill-encounter sword, most of the physical comedy here, particularly "The Combat," is just too slow to land. (Aldonza's "It's All the Same" is also slower than I would have liked, but it seems standard to sing it that way, so I've come to accept it.)

There is something about this Man of La Mancha that made me, for the first time, really question the show itself. Cervantes doesn't change—he's a pompous jerk when he enters and a pompous jerk when he leaves. Quixote doesn't change either—not really. He flirts with sanity, but the changes in his mental state are caused by others; he never makes a decision to change. The only character who evolves in this piece is Aldonza. Margherita does a splendid job with her—this Aldonza enters as a wild animal, with a base hunger for money, and a willingness to do anything for it. She transforms into someone who will always think more of herself, and it's ultimately beautiful to see. It is, however, a brutal journey for her, and the song "Aldonza" comes at the absolute bottom. It makes one wonder how Quixote can be unmoved by such a forceful display of reality (and pain for which he is at least partly responsible) but somehow become undone by the much weaker Knight of the Mirrors business which immediately follows.

There is, no doubt, some delicious singing in this production. But, overall, it doesn't create the magic that it should.

Man of La Mancha runs at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center through February 26, 2012. For tickets and information, see www.musical.org.

Musical Theatre West - Paul Garman, Executive Director/Producer - presents Man of La Mancha. Book by Dale Wasserman; Music by Mitch Leigh; Lyrics by Joe Darion. Artistic Director Steven Glaudini; Technical Director/Set Designer Kevin Clowes; Lighting Designer Steven Young; Sound Designer Julie Ferrin; Costume Designer Cathleen Edwards; Costume Coordinator Todd Proto; Wig Designer Mark Travis Hoyer; Stage Manager Stanley D. Cohen; Assistant Stage Manager/Production Manager Mary Ritenhour. Musical Director Matthew Smedal; Choreographer Carlos Mendoza; Director Nick DeGruccio.

Cast:
Miguel De Cervantes/Don Quixote - Davis Gaines
Aldonza - Lesli Margherita
Manservant/Sancho Panza - Justin Robertson
Governor/Innkeeper - Richard Gould
The Duke/Dr. Carrasco - Damon Kirsche
The Padre - Jason Webb
The Barber - Steven Glaudini
Antonia - Karenssa Legear
Maria/Housekeeper - Dynell Leigh
Pedro - Sam Zeller
Anselmo/Mule - Venny Carranza
Juan/Horse - Michael Guarnera
Josť - Jay Donnell
Tenorio - Isaac James
Pablo - Robert Patrick Kelly
Paco - AJ Mendoza
Manolo - Ramone Owens
Fermina - Jebbel Arce
Captain of the Inquisition - Brad Fitzgerald
Guards - Christopher Hamby, Andre Polo
Onstage Guitarist - Gary Lee


Photo: Ken Jacques Photography


- Sharon Perlmutter






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