A Singer's Notes by Keith Kibler / Theater

A Singer’s Notes 41: To Dream the Impossible Dream: Man of La Mancha at Capital Rep

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Kevin McGuire as Don Quixote and Robert Anthony Jones as Sancho Panza in Man of La Mancha at Capital Rep.
Kevin McGuire as Don Quixote and Robert Anthony Jones as Sancho Panza in Man of La Mancha at Capital Rep.

Directed by Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill

Man of La Mancha is manifestly a show which tries to convert. It is not a simple narrative, though its main functional device is story-telling. It seeks to do no less than convince.  It is as close to polemic as musical theatre gets.  It must succeed in doing this, or it has not worked. Capital Rep’s new production of this classic musical is fully professional. It is well-cast, musically inventive, and consistently well-paced. Kevin McGuire in the title role has more than a touch of Falstaff in his portrayal. He seemed almost bewildered as Cervantes in prison, and then by turns, tired, rueful, and very human, portraying Don Quixote. He did not hog the stage; often he was the quietest presence on the stage. His singing did not set out to command, but to move. I could imagine a more bravura performance, but Mr. McGuire’s was direct and convincing. I thought the strongest parts of his portrayal were the quieter moments, again, sometimes touched by bewilderment or confusion. He humanized the hero. Supporting roles were very well taken. Anne Fraser Thomas as Aldonza did not begin on the defensive. There were other things in her portrayal than anger. If anything the scenes which are the most appalling were a little routine, perhaps too well-executed. I found Ms Thomas increasingly convincing as the show went on, and most convincing at the end of the show where her portrayal, like Mr. McGuire’s, was not overstated.

The most moving Man of La Mancha I have ever seen was a high school production. Ralph Hammann was the director with his Pittsfield High School troupe. There were plenty of things in their show that were less than perfect, but the young actors, very good ones (two of whom are now professionals) did precisely what they needed to do. They converted us to the radical optimism, the unconditional hope, that is the show. Perhaps it takes youth to hear that that hope is real.

Capital Rep, like so many others theatres in our area, inflicted upon us an amplification process that was way too intrusive and variable. I have heard Kevin McGuire sing and speak in a number of productions and have never had the slightest difficulty connecting with his charismatic voice. Capital Rep’s own My Fair Lady, if it was amplified, was done so well. The La Mancha sound picture was excessive and to my way of hearing, entirely unnecessary. I saw one gentleman with an assisted listening device. I have no argument with these. A kind of overlay of amplification keeps us from listening. Our ears go on automatic pilot—everything starts to sound the same. So much of the subtlety that comes from great singing is blunted or destroyed by amplification. Capital Rep is not alone in this by any means. It seems that the plague is upon us wherever we go these days. How ever did we manage a few years ago? Let us hear real singing, which touches the heart, instead of electronic singing which anaesthetizes the ears.

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