BWW Review: MAN OF LA MANCHA at the Broad Brook Opera House

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It's always a thrill to make your first visit to see a new theatre company. A lack of context creates a blank slate with limitless possibilities. That was my experience when I attend my first production by the Opera House Players at the lovely Broad Brook Opera House in Broad Brook, CT. Situated a bit off the beaten path, it is not the type of place you would simply stumble upon, but upon arrival I could immediately tell this place was certainly something special to the community. This feeling was further validated by the faithful theater-goers in attendance on opening night of The Opera House Players' current production of MAN OF LA MANCHA. The first thing I noticed was the excitement in the air from the audience. The packed house (which, by the way, is always a good sign, especially on opening night) was abuzz in anticipation of the show. The theater itself is set on the top floor of the former Broad Brook Woolen Company building which was built in 1892. With a long history of being a gathering place for the town, the theater obviously holds a special place in people's hearts.

MAN OF LA MANCHA by Dale Wasserman, Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion, is not an easy musical to pull off. There are certain critical factors that need to be in place to convey the heart of the piece. First, and not surprisingly, you must have a gregarious, noble, and powerful Don Quixote. John Baran, who plays the titular hero in this production, fits this requirement well. His strong baritone voice, mix of equal parts stalwart knight and bumbling madman, and delivery of this conflicted and complicated character hit the mark. Baran also conveyed well the nuanced differences (and common characteristics) of the three different (but inexorably linked) characters (Cervantes/Quixote/Quijana.)

Second to a strong "Man of La Mancha", the next ingredient needed is a brassy, bold, yet quietly vulnerable leading lady. Erica Romeo portrayed Aldonza, the tortured kitchen wench and object of Don Quixote's devotion with strength and agility and with a presence that commanded the stage. Her performance of the 11th hour number "Aldonza" was particularly moving - balancing anger and rage with brokenness and despair.

In terms of the supporting cast, a number of performances stood out for me. First, Mary McCue as Antonia displayed a beautiful soprano voice in the ironic "I'm Only Thinking of Him" and was joined admirably by Jim Metzler and Reva Kleppel as the Padre and Housekeeper. Additionally, Brad Shepard, as the Governor/Inkeeper made a significant impression anytime he was on stage and was one of the strongest actors among the supporting cast.

Many of the directorial choices made by Anna Giza were perfect for the stage and cast she was working with. She made good use of the space, and handled well what can sometimes be quite challenging "show within a prison" setting. Her choreography, while minimal, was appropriate to the skill level of the cast. Steven Cirillo, in his role as Music Director coaxed a large sound from the small cast, and successfully pulled off a strong sound from the three piece orchestra.

Not having seen a show at the Opera House before, I was a little surprised by the number of mics used in such a small space (which on the night I attended created a bit of challenge in terms of static, overload, and backstage conversation on a forgotten mic), but for quieter numbers (and dialogue) they did help. The set as designed by George LaVoice and the scenic painting/design by Audrey Corman was a perfect fit and was one of the first things I noticed when I arrived at the theater. Finally, the costumes and props by Moonyean Field and Nancy Curran, respectively, were particularly impressive and realistic, including some fun and unique pieces to LA MANCHA such as mirror shields, twisted swords and one very interesting lance.

As with any community theater production, MAN OF LA MANCHA isn't without its bumps. But taken as a whole, this company truly conveys their deep and abiding love for the musical theatre and all one has to do is look at the sheer joy on each face during the bows and listen to the applause of the audience to know that it is alive and well in Broad Brook.

All in all, the Opera House Players' production of MAN OF LA MANCHA is strong and hits the right marks. I know the people of Broad Brook must be very proud of the caliber of theater in their community. I was happy to make my first foray to that scenic locale, and do expect it will not be my last.

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Opera House Players, Inc. is currently presenting MAN OF LA MANCHA through November 29 (Fridays & Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm) at the Broad Brook Opera House, 107 Main Street, Broad Brook, CT. Tickets are available by calling the box office at 860-292-6068 or online at www.operahouseplayers.org. Adults: $21, Over 60/Under 12: $17, Student Rush (with ID): $15 (limited quantity may be available 10 minutes prior to curtain)



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From This Author Joseph Harrison