BWW Reviews: MAN OF LA MANCHA at the Shakespeare Theatre Company is Just Plain Spectacular

BWW Reviews: MAN OF LA MANCHA at the Shakespeare Theatre Company is Just Plain Spectacular

Having grown up in Boston, The Impossible Dream was associated with the 1967 Boston Red Sox Season where they actually won the pennant (but lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series). It is known as "The Impossible Dream Season" and you can even buy the record on Amazon featuring Ken Coleman, the voice of the Bosox for $20.

It was just two years prior, in 1965, that STC Artistic Director Michael Kahn was working at the Goodspeed Opera House n East Haddam, CT where they were mounting the world premiere of MAN OF LA MANCHA directed by Albert Marre. While Kahn was directing another show (thanks to a recommendation by Marre), he was able to watch the first month and a half of rehearsals for LA MANCHA. He commented, "Little did anyone know at the time that it would transfer to Broadway and run for the next seven years!"

1965 was a tough year. President Kennedy had been assassinated in 1963. The Vietnam War was underway. Civil Rights became a hot topic. There were protests everywhere. The country was ripe for some inspiration, some optimism, and it found it thanks to this iconic musical MAN OF LA MANCHA, the work of composer Mitch Leigh, , lyricist Joe Darion, and a book by Dale Wasserman who clearly wanted to present a work about social justice and freedom.

The musical broke new ground on Broadway. First, there was no intermission, unusual at the time. Composer Leigh has "no strings" in the pit and uses instead, brass, winds, and guitar. The superb 11 piece orchestra under the direction of George Fulginiti-Shakir is NOT in a pit, but is located on a balcony stage left. I spoke with guitarist Gerry Kunkel after the show and wondered how long they had to rehearse. I was shocked to hear they had 40 hours together, which is highly unusual but it was a good idea. They are terrific.

Kahn saw how stunning last year's A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM directed by STC Associate Artistic Director Alan Paul was received at the STC and decided to go back to the well and chose the 30-year-old Paul to try again with LA MANCHA. (Paul is already signed up to direct next year's STC musical KISS ME KATE). And Paul's magic has returned.

The key to any production of MOLM starts with casting the leading role of Miguel de Cervantes, who in 1594 Seville, Spain was arrested by the Inquisition due to his placing a lien (he was a tax collector) against a Catholic monastery for non-payment of taxes.

One has to applaud the STC for reaching "down-under" to pluck the talented musical theater star from Australia, Anthony Warlow. Warlowin 2012 played on Broadway as Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks in ANNIE but his resume is impressive originating roles in Australian productions of LES MISERABLES, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, THE SECRET GARDEN, DOCTOR ZHIVAGO and JEKYLL & Hyde. He also has extensive opera credits. When he sings the signature number "The Impossible Dream", I saw many in the audience desire to stand. It was a thunderous ovation. There must be a good story how the STC was able to bring this accomplished performer to DC. He alone is worth the price of admission.

Warlow also plays two other characters. When Cervantes is arrested, and enters the imposing jail via a catwalk to a thirty step ramp that works as a bridge from above (like an erector set) into the abyss below (great set design by Allen Moyer), he carries with him a trunk and a manuscript. He is more than a tax collector. He's an actor, writer, and director. When he is accosted by his fellow prisoners and told he would be put on trial, he convinces the mob to let him put on a defense using his chest full of costumes and theatrical props. He turns into Alonso Quijana, a playwright, and then morphs into his character of Don Quixote de la Mancha before our eyes, with his make-up kit, where he applies a beard, and adds his knight costume with the requisite helmet (superb period costumes by Ann Houle-Ward)

He is accompanied by his "Tonto" or sidekick, Sancho Panza, the incomparable Nehai Joshi, so terrific as Ali Hakim in the Arena Stage's record-breaking production of OKLAHOMA. This production seems more comedic than the well-received 2002 Broadway production with Brian Stokes Mitchell, thanks to Director Paul, Warlow, and especially Joshi. Joshi shows off his talent in "I Really Like Him" and "A Little Gossip".

The prison is co-ed and playing the role of Aldonza the bar maid/whore is the talented Amber Iman. In both her role as Aldonza (she belts the powerful number "It's All the Same")and the role of the gorgeous (at least in the eyes of Don Quixote) Dulcinea where she sings the haunting "What Does he Want of Me!".

The ensemble deserves special recognition. They stomp and dance flamenco style (with help of Flamenco Specialist Arielle Rosales and Choreographer Marcos Santana) and sing and act with gusto. Martin Sola (The Padre) nails the lovely "To Each His Dulcinea" and Dan Sharkey excels in his dual role as "The Governor/Innkeeper" and shows off his great baritone voice in "The Dubbing/Knight of the Woeful Countenance".

This is a show that has Broadway writen all over it. In fact, I noticed that of the 17 actors, eight have Broadway credentials. And it shows.

Lighting Designer Robert Wierzel works wonders with just one set using his palette of colors beautifully.

Sound Designer Ken Travis is responsible for the audience not missing a work or lyric.

But for the famous rape scene (parents be warned), this show would be ideal for everyone. It is not as explicit as it could be but it is still something to consider before taking the family.

There are free programs available on Saturday, April 11 at 6 p.m. and a free Post-Performance Discussion on April 15.

For tickets, call 202-547-1122 or visit www.shakespearetheatre.org where you can watch a wonderful video montage of the show and hear some informative discussions of the play. Kudos once again to the STC wonderful ASIDES, a terrific 63 page free publication available through the web site loaded with articles and information about the show.

The show has been extended to May 3!

Do not miss this spectacular production.

cgshubow@broadwayworld.com

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From This Author Charles Shubow

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