Review: MAN OF LA MANCHA at Asolo Repertory Theatre

By: May. 22, 2023
Review: MAN OF LA MANCHA at Asolo Repertory Theatre
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Man of La Mancha

While researching one of my favorite timeless stories brought to life, I was surprised to find that The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha is a Spanish novel written in 2 parts by Miguel de Cervantes in 1605 and 1615. It was the inspiration for a non-musical teleplay written by Dale Wasserman for CBS's program DuPont Show of the Month. It was stated that the DuPont Corporation disliked the title Man of La Mancha and gave the teleplay a new title, I, Don Quixote. It was broadcast live in 1959. Years later Broadway director Albert Marre suggested that Wasserman rewrite the play into a musical and Mitch Leigh was selected as composer with orchestrations by Carlyle W. Hall. The production opened on Broadway in 1968 with Richard Kiley in the starring role of Don Quixote who won a Tony Award for his performance. Peter O'Toole played the film version of Quixote in 1972 opposite James Coco as Sancho and Sophia Loren as Aldonza. Cervantes's book went on the be one of the most translated books in the world and the best-selling novel of all time.

In Man of La Mancha, we join a down-and-out, author-soldier-actor-tax collector Miguel de Cervantes placed in a dungeon by the Spanish Inquisition with his servant Sancho Panza and various other "criminals". Cervantes and Sancho's crime was for attempting to foreclose on a monastery. The prisoners try to steal a trunk that Cervantes has brought with him, curious about the contents inside. However, one sympathetic fellow prisoner "the Governor" suggests setting up a mock trial. If Cervantes is found guilty, he will have to hand over his trunk. A more cynical fellow prisoner "The Duke" charges Cervantes with being a dreamer, and a bad poet. Cervantes accepts his guilt but asks if he can plead his defense in the form of a play. When "The Governor" obliges, Cervantes casts fellow inmates in various roles and they begrudgingly follow through in character.

Cervantes transforms himself into the aging Alonso Quijano, an old gentleman of chivalry and although he has lost his mind, he sees himself as a knight-errant, searching for adventures to prove his virtues. Quijano renames himself Don Quixote de La Mancha and rallies his "squire" Sancho Panza to accompany him into combat.

Through his madness, we follow Quixote in a myriad of trials and triumphs that exist only in his feeble mind. In one encounter he mistakes a windmill for a four-armed giant, and tries to fight it, but loses the battle because he feels he was never knighted properly. He mistakes a rundown inn for a castle, barmaid/prostitute Aldonza as his lady Dulcinea, and steals a shaving basin from the head of a local barber, declaring it the "Golden Helmet of Mambrino" making its wearer invincible. Throughout the whole production, Quixote is lovable, and his devoted servant Sancho is entertaining. Audiences are treated to some of the most iconic songs that encapsulate each setting of a scene such as "Man of La Mancha (I, Don Quixote)", "Dulcinea", and the pinnacle piece "The Impossible Dream".

Man of La Mancha at Asolo

At the close of their season comes a contemporary version of Man of La Mancha to the Asolo stage and an energetic way to wrap up a dynamic season. At first glance when you enter the theatre you may feel, like me, that you have walked into the wrong theatre. Expecting a medieval dungeon, I was surprised to find a two-story contemporary prison setting with modern-day characters peppered throughout the stage. Executive Director Peter Rothstein not only brought a modern look to the production, but he also brought a contemporary theme revealing possible migrants awaiting some sort of interrogation. Fabian Fidel Aguilar is quite clever at morphing costumes from one era to another. Michael Hoover's detention center design of stark uncomfortable furniture, and hard tile flooring is enveloped in gray cinder blocks with an upstairs oversight window manned by an authority figure. Greg Emetaz stunning projections on these walls escort the audience to various scenarios throughout the production, a church, an old inn, and the countryside. The complementary lighting design by Marcus Dilliard adds just the right touch to the breadth and depth, tone, and mood of this story. I loved the staging when it came time to ride their trusty steeds (suitcases) to the next battle.

Mauricio Martinez is tall and charismatic as Cervantes/Quixote and delivers "The Impossible Dream" with gusto. His sidekick in Aaron De Jesus as the lovable Sancho is a perfect match and fun to watch the interaction between them. Janely Rodriguez plays feisty Aldonza with attitude and does her best to hold her own among a group of raucous muleteers. Impressive vocals on "To Each His Dulcinea" by Brian Kim McCormick as The Padre were beautifully memorable. This cast was up for their roles and had the chops to perform the songs that beheld their storyline.

Kudos to the splendid ensemble cast mates G. Mingo Long as The Governor/The Innkeeper, Javier Ignacio as Pedro, and Rodolfo Nieto as the Duke/Dr. Carrasco.

Exceptional score from music director Jenny Kim-Godfrey, and choreography by Cat Brindisi round off this production with creative touches that give it energy and flair.

Man of La Mancha runs through June 11, 2023.

Photo credit: Cliff Roles

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