Review: 'Man of La Mancha' At Westport Playhouse
The show: “Man of La Mancha” at Westport Country Playhouse.
What makes it special: This theater doesn't present many musicals so when it does it’s a bit of an event and it brings the show back to Connecticut where it started.
First impressions: Director Mark Lamos has cast this scaled-down musical well with two leads that are equally strong as singers as they are as actors. He has guided them both with care in a visually striking, theatrically compelling production that will bring joy to the hearts of fans of this musical chestnut.
What’s it about?: Set in the bowels of a prison in Seville at the end of the 16th Century, writer Miguel de Cervantes and acolyte Sancho join the denizens there as they await their fate. The inmates are on the verge of destroying Cervantes’ epic manuscript but he convinces them on holding a trial in which he pleads his case by acting out the manuscript’s narrative, enlisting the prisoners in the storytelling. It’s the story of delusional dreamer Don Quixote and loyal servant Sancho Panza and their misadventures, some comic, some tragic, in his belief of noble causes.
How does the revival hold up?: Creeky in some places, uncomfortable in others (it’s hard to deal with the rape), underwritten in others (Sancho) and yet the story and songs (by Mitch lee and lyrics by Joe Darion) still manage to connect.
Philip Hernandez brings a touching sweetness and vulnerability — and lovely baritone — to the role of Don Quixote, that windmill-jousting, elder-knight in less than chivalrous times. (Hernandez actually looks like he could be truly dubbed “Knight of the Woeful Countenance’). Gisela Adisa as the barmaid/whore Aldonza is also terrific and though her soprano doesn’t always soar — the role requires an almost inhuman range — she fills the character with layers of complexity.
Many of the featured performers sing beautifully, too, especially Esteban Suero as the barber, Carlos Encinias as the padre and Ian Paget as the captain. Clay Singer has a bit of that Adam Driver sexy darkness as the prisoner who most challenges Cervantes. Much praise ALSO goes to a transformative prison setting by Wilson Chin, dramatically lit by Alan C. Edwards.
Who will like it?: Impossible dreamers.
Who won’t?: Cynics.
For the kids?: Teens will (hopefully) identify with the idealism— but the rape scene is tough to take for anyone,
Thoughts on leaving the parking lot: “Man of La Mancha” is a theatrical conceit very much of its time which seemed to embrace the counter-culture notion that the insane are more sane than the rest of us. (“King of Hearts” “Harold and Maude,” “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” the latter which had a stage adaptation by Dale Wasserman who scripted “Man of :a Mancha”). It might not be the perfect time to celebrate a delusional and charismatic character who says things like , “Facts are the enemy of truth.” Still the theatricality is infectious, the melodies sublime and, in the end, the craftsmanship of the work touches a bit of the poet in all of us.
The basics: The production runs just over two hours, including one intermission at the theater at 25 Powers Court, just off Rt. 1 in Westport. The show plays through Oct. 14. Information at westportplayhouse.org and box office at 203 227-4177 and 888 927-7529
One more thing: The world premiere of the musical was at Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam in 1965, prior to its way to New York.