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.
About two decades ago, big music schools decided that music theatre wasn’t all that bad. Somebody told them it was very difficult for a twenty-four year old artist to fill a hall singing a recital. Young singers need to look good and move well on stage. Eastman resurrected a long-lost Gershwin show. This spring Curtis brought back an alumnus to sing Wozzeck who had just made a name for himself on Broadway as Judd in Oklahoma. It pleased the powers that be in these king and queen-making institutions to erase or at least blur the distinction between what high-fallutin’ singing was and how people sang on Broadway. Some wonderful things have come from this. We now have stars of the musical theatre like Audra McDonald who sing with subtlety and beauty—no honking, no belting. If only we had shows good enough for them.