BWW Reviews: Perfection Isn't an Impossible Dream for MAN OF LA MANCHA Tour
It's interesting to consider what musicals will stand the test of time. Of more recent shows, which ones will be performed and well-received in another 50 years? Will Les Miserables? Probably, especially when you consider the staying power of Victor Hugo's classic novel. Will Rent? As great as the show is, I bet it will be terribly dated in 50 years (Let's hope HIV/AIDS is a thing of the past by then).
And what about shows from the Golden Age of Broadway? It's tough to say, but one show's legacy is certain. Man of La Mancha has entertained audiences for almost 50 years, and if the current National Tour is any indication, it will continue to do so 50 years from now.
The classic musical tells the iconic story of Don Quixote, an elderly man who believes himself to be a knight and sees the goodness in all people and situations. The ingenious book by Dale Wasserman envisions the Don Quixote tale as a play within a play. The musical begins with Quixote's creator, Don Miguel de Cervantes, being thrown in jail to await judgment from the Spanish Inquisition. To pass the time, Cervantes and the prisoners act out Quixote's story.
The tour, which I was lucky enough to catch at Austin's Long Center for the Performing Arts earlier this week, is as charming and likeable as Don Quixote himself. Director Jeffrey B. Moss keeps the show moving at a brisk pace and manages to tell the story with an intense focus on the characters and their emotions. The choreography by Denis Jones wonderfully utilizes Spanish folk dances. Randel Wright's prison set gives an appropriately oppressive and claustrophobic feel, and the lighting design by Charlie Morrison and John Burkland often bathes the stage in a mysterious glow. The costumes by Michael Bottari and Ronald Case are wonderfully detailed, and while the piece requires most of the characters to be clothed in rags, one in particular is spectacularly designed. The late arrival of Quixote's rival, the Knight of the Mirrors, is a wow moment in which both costume and lighting design complement each other.
Of the cast, there are quite a few stand-outs. Rick Grossman gives Quixote's sidekick, Sancho, a perky, somewhat foolish but always loveable persona. In the somewhat smaller supporting role of The Padre, Chuck Hodges is astounding. His classically trained voice will give you chills, and his two solo numbers are among the biggest highlights of the evening. As Aldonza, Jessica Norland gives a splendid performance as well. Vocally, she's able to handle the incredibly difficult and demanding score, and in the acting department, she shines. Like most Aldonzas, Norland is tough and feisty, but she also finds several moments to show the character's vulnerability, sweetness, and innate purity that many actresses ignore in the role.
But the most memorable performance comes from Jack E. Curenton as Cervantes and Quixote. As my date for the evening put it, Curenton has a speaking voice that is so beautiful to hear that you'd be content just hearing him read a phonebook. His deep baritone singing voice is just as delightful. Curenton gives his role of Cervantes a regal and dignified air, and those qualities carry over to Quixote as well. As the windmill-jousting hero, Curenton is ever so slightly demented but never over the top. We laugh, but never at Quixote. He's not a clown but a fully realized character who always has our sympathy. We cheer him for his chivalrous purpose, and we wish more people would dream his impossible dream. All in all, Curenton gives a truly tour-de-force performance that ranks among the great Don Quixotes that have come before him.
Given the incredible popularity of Man of La Mancha in the near 50 years since its Broadway premiere, odds are you may have seen a production of it before. Whether you have or have not, the current touring production is well worth the ticket price. This is musical theater at its finest, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a better production of this incredibly moving show.