BWW Review: The Rep's MAN OF LA MANCHA Soars to Inspirational Heights

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Photo Credit: Michael Brosilow

Everyone eventually wishes for an impossible dream to be fulfilled-In a musical where that song, "The Impossible Dream," continues to inspire an audience, Milwaukee Repertory stellar Man of La Mancha opened the final weeks of September and proved why the musical won five 1966 Tony Awards. The first production in the Quadracci Powerhouse season, the iconic musical written by Dale Wasserman combined with brilliant music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion transforms Cervantes groundbreaking novel into a two hour, no intermission musical set in the dungeons of the 16th century Spanish Inquisition. Cervantes and his servant Sancho Panza must prove their worth to their prison mates. To do so, the pair performs the poet's "Man of La Mancha" in the Spanish dungeon, where all the prisoners participate as actors, which eventually awakens the impossible dream inside those attending in the audience

Director Mark Clements develops the humor and pathos in this musical to deepen the ultimate message of Don Quixote's battle between reality and imagination, hope against despair. Nathaniel Stampley's commanding stage presence adds a magical element to Don Quixote's supposed madness, making Quixote's story, his dream of chivalry and knighthood, the quest, more believable for the audience. His partner in the quest, the reality-based Sancho Panza, gives a contrasting repartee through actor Michael J. Farina, who doses out down to earth wisdom to his ever optimistic master Quixote. The pair eventually encounters the daring Aldonza, Leenya Rideout, who carries the difficult transition from kitchen prostitute to Lady Dulcinea with assurance and grace as she sings of her tragic life.

Equally stunning, Jonathan Gillard Daly's Padre sings as if channeling heaven itself in "To Each His Dulcinea," and "The Psalm." Another Milwaukee favorite, Matt Daniels, finds his place as the doctor who challenges Don Quixote in his illusions apparently "Only Thinking of Him" as a man engaged to Quixote's daughter, Emma Rose Brooks in the role of Antonia.

A superb technical team contributes to this powerful La Mancha when Scenic Designer Jack Magaw, Costume Designer Alexander B. Tacoma and Lighting Designer Jason Fassl collaborate and create seamless transitions for this play within a play, or musical within a musical. Changing the prisoners to Cervantes' actors becomes another wonder to behold on stage and allows the man Cervantes and his counterpart Don Quixote to exist together perfectly for the audience.

With a brilliant cast and five piece orchestra under the direction of Dan Kazemi to accompany the production, Man of La Mancha persists in presenting parallels to how the audience could view the world, as it exists in reality or as the world could be--filled with honor, morality, consideration and compassion in place of disrespect, intolerance and violence. With the respect for civility and manners in personal relations quickly becoming relegated to mere technology, perhaps chivalry might be needed more than ever. Every man or women appreciates a door being held open for them, or a sincere thank you for the smallest of kindnesses, while please and thank you remain relevant in life.

The production also reminds the audience one person's belief in another can positively impact a life. Don Quixote's consistent belief in Aldonza's value gives this one woman the confidence and power to believe in herself and finally deem herself worthy despite her past, which exposes the power of how one person can change the course of someone's dreams in life.

One might believe the song "The Impossible Dream" would be too familiar for the audience to fully appreciate, yet when Stampley's majestic voice floats above the audience in the Quadracci Powerhouse, these lyrics continue to drive home the meaning of hope and dreams of what the world, or a life, could be. The Rep;s production soars in offering the audience a chance to escape reality and invite their own dreams into their lives-both personally and corporately-to become reality.

Perhaps, more significantly, Man of La Mancha remains ever contemporary and remembers the pursuit of dreams provides equal fulfillment to their actual achievement. A person rarely achieves anything in life unless he or she dreams of these achievements first. In a world often delivering an overdose of grim reality, dreams in the 16th century or the 21 century offer hope instead of despair, a future instead of doom. In this must see or must see again musical, Man of La Mancha raises the theater's rafters to meet the challenge of envisioning those future dreams.

Milwaukee Rep presents Man of La Mancha in the Quadracci Powerhouse at the Patty and Jay Baker Theater Complex through October 30. For special events, further information on performances, or tickets, please call: 414.224.9490 or visit:

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From This Author Peggy Sue Dunigan