BWW Review: New Rep's Season of Resilience: MAN OF LA MANCHA
Man of La Mancha
Book by Dale Wasserman, Music by Mitch Leigh, Lyrics by Joe Darion, Directed by Antonio Ocampo-Guzman, Music Direction by David Reiffel, Movement Direction by Judith Chaffee; Scenic Designer, Eric Levenson; Costume Designer, Frances Nelson McSherry; Lighting Designer, Jeff Adelberg; Production Stage Manager, Jaclyn Fulton; Assistant Stage Manager, Becca Freifeld
CAST (in alphabetical order): Stefan Barner, Shonna Cirone, Christina English, Ute Gfrerer, Brandon Grimes, Nile Hawver, Ricardo D. Holguín, Paul James Lang, Michael Levesque, Cristhian Mancinas-Garcia, Davron S. Monroe, Maurice Emmanuel Parent, Ivy Ryan, Nicole Vander Laan, Todd Yard
New Repertory Theatre's 2017-2018 season is labeled "Resilience," and it doubles down on the theme with its current production of Man of La Mancha. The 1965 Tony Award-winning Best Musical, which was based on the play I, Don Quixote, ran for 2,328 performances, has been revived on Broadway four times, and was subsequently adapted for a film. This enduring piece of musical theater is also the story of one man's resilience as he maintains his idealistic quest despite the odds against him. Director Antonio Ocampo-Guzman takes a layered approach, sharing focus on the 16th century, the medieval era, the 1960s, and present day.
As the play opens, Miguel de Cervantes (Maurice Emmanuel Parent) and his secretary (Michael Levesque) are thrown into prison by the Inquisition for trying to collect taxes from a church. While awaiting their fate from the government, their dastardly fellow prisoners put them on trial for their lives. Being theater people, they beg the indulgence of the kangaroo court to put on a play as their defense, nudging the other prisoners to take on roles in their story. Cervantes becomes Don Quixote de la Mancha, his companion is the faithful Sancho Panza, and one of the few female prisoners impersonates a rough barmaid, Aldonza (Ute Gfrerer), who Don Quixote dubs Dulcinea. The top dog prisoner, referred to as the "Governor" (Todd Yard), steps in as an innkeeper and another prisoner (Shonna Cirone) plays his bossy wife.
The play-within-a-play provides the occasion for each member of the ensemble to play dual roles as prisoners, the muleteers who patronize the roadside inn, and the family and close circle of a retired landowner, Alonso Quijana (a third character for Parent). Displaying further versatility, five or six of the cast play musical instruments (as in a J.H. Doyle production) while in character. Music Director David Reiffel (piano) and four musicians in the orchestra are upstage, dressed in the same earthy costumes as the prisoners. Nile Hawver proficiently plays lead guitar, while also creating a smarmy, strutting character. Levesque shows a range of skill on guitar and ukelele, Ricardo D. Holguín and Nicole Vander Laan also handle guitar duties, and Paul James Lang sounds Don Quixote's entrance on the trumpet.
Ocampo-Guzman's vision for the production design is carried out by scenic designer Eric Levenson, lighting designer Jeff Adelberg, and costume designer Frances Nelson McSherry. The use of stage haze, scaffolding, and theatrical trunks provide atmosphere, and movement director Judith Chaffee makes good use of the staging. The Mitch Leigh (music)/Joe Darion (lyrics) score includes a range of anthems and ballads, and the ensemble is filled with strong vocalists who fulfill the promise of the music. Standouts include Stefan Barner (Father Pérez), Christina English (housekeeper), and Davron S. Monroe (Simón Carrasco).
Parent has the opportunity to sing the best, and best known, songs in the show, including the title tune, "Dulcinea," and "The Impossible Dream." In his interpretation of the latter showstopper, he reveals the true nature of his character and credibly makes Aldonza see him differently. Although the numerous transformations from one character to another are sometimes muddled in the book, Parent's performance is consistently strong. As his muse, Ute Gfrerer is a revelation and a welcome new face (and voice) to Boston theater. Originally from Austria, and an international opera soloist and Kurt Weill specialist, she brings a decided "wow" factor to each of her musical numbers with her powerful voice and ability to act the song.
This theater season has provided an endless range of offerings that, despite their subject matter and vintage, are relevant and timely. In searching for the nugget of inspiration in Man of La Mancha, one need go no further than the gold mine of the lyrics and message of "The Impossible Dream," subtitled "The Quest."
"This is my quest, To follow that star, No matter how hopeless, No matter how far,
To fight for the right, Without question or pause, To be willing to march into hell for a
May these stirring words encourage us all to keep marching.