Man of La Mancha
Barrington Stage Company, Pittsfield MA
Book by Dale Wasserman
Music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion
Directed by Julianne Boyd
Choreography by Greg Graham
Musical Director/Conductor Darren R. Cohen
Scenic Design by James Kronzer
Lighting Design by Chris Lee
Sound Design by Ed Chapman
Starring Jeff McCarthy as Cervantes/Don Quixote, Felicia Boswell as Aldonza/Dulcinea and Tom Alan Robbins as Sancho. With Roasalie Burke, Meg Bussert, Ed Dixon, Todd Horman, Lexi Janz, Sean MacLaughlin, Louie Napoleon, Chris Ramirez, and others.
Man of La Mancha is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year. Since its premiere at a Greenwich Village theatre in 1965, when it won a Tony for Best Musical, it has had four Broadway revivals and numerous productions all over the world. Its endurance is based on its gorgeous score and its 400 year-old classic story of the dreamer, Don Quixote, who imagines only good and gallantry in a dark, ugly world.
The revival of Man of La Mancha currently playing at the Barrington Stage in Pittsfield, MA through July 11 does a brilliant job of executing the dark, ugly world but falls a little short at helping us imagine the good.
The story takes place in a prison dungeon when the tax collector and writer Cervantes (Jeff McCarthy) is awaiting trial by the Inquisition. To save a beloved manuscript he has brought with him from being burned by his fellow inmates, he insists that they put him on trial. Before our eyes Cervantes dons bushy, gray eyebrows, a mustache and a beard and transforms himself into Alonso Quijana, who believes himself to be a knight-errant, Don Quixote, the Lord of La Mancha. Throughout the 105 minutes of the intermission-less show, he defends himself by telling stories of Don Quixote’s adventures and assigning roles to the other prisoners—Cervantes’ manservant (Tom Alan Robbins) becomes Sancho Panza. Aldonza, a prostitute (Felicia Boswell) becomes the lady of Quixote’s dreams, Dulcinea. Other characters and actors assume myriad roles. After telling of his imaginary adventures, Quixote is confronted by the Knight of the Mirrors. He sees his own reality and reverts back to Quijana.
In the most successful productions of Man of La Mancha, the audience is seduced into Quixote’s world and imagines fully along with him. At the end we are grieved by Alonso Quijana’s loss of this world and root deeply for it to return and for him to become Don Quixote once again. Sadly, we felt just a slight tweak on the heartstrings.
But citing only this moment—or lack thereof—is not being totally fair to what is a fine production with many highs and only a couple of major lows.
Among the highs is the set of a dark prison dungeon with tall, gray walls by James Kronzer. It is excellent and truly scary. Its steel bars and its steel door have haunting sounds when struck, opened or closed. The creepy sound design is by Ed Chapman.
The famous score by Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion has one hit after another. “The Impossible Dream,” “Dulcinea” and the title song are among them.
The singing is mostly spectacular. Jeff McCarthy has a huge vocal stage presence. Felicia Boswell too is a large presence although her singing was not always in character. Rosalie Burke has a small role as Antonia but a stand-out voice. Tom Alan Robbins (Sancho) also has a big voice, and his portrayal of Sancho as a Brooklynite was very funny and charming. In fact all of the featured actors were excellent.
Standouts were both the well-staged fight scene and the upsetting rape scene, both choreographed by Ryan Winkles. The dances choreographed by Greg Graham, particularly the opening sequence featuring the excellent dancer Lexi Janz, were wonderful.
One only wishes that the acting—under the direction of Barrington Stage Artistic Director, Julianne Boyd—had been more convincing. Perhaps deeper is a more appropriate term. Boswell in particular never convinced us that she saw herself—or could see herself—as Quixote’s lady, Dulcinea.
We also could have done without the Darth Vader interpretation of the Knight of the Mirrors and the echo-amplified voice of that character.
In recent years Barrington Stage has spoiled us with its stellar productions of On The Town, West Side Story and Guys and Dolls. Man of La Mancha doesn’t quite measure up, but all-in-all it’s another first-rate production.