The Man of La Mancha opens in a dreary underground prison sometime during the Spanish Inquisition. The inmates comprise a rough-looking collection, mostly men, mostly hostile. Enter Miguel de Cervantes (Leif Norby), with his man, Sancho (Joey Cote), escorted down a long stairway into the dungeon by guards. They are clean and respectable in appearance, unlike the gang of prisoners giving them the once-over. Fresh meat. The vetting begins.
Cervantes, a debt-ridden, failed playwright and itinerant poet, senses that things might be headed in the wrong direction. So he brilliantly contrives a story in which he transforms himself into Alonso Quijana, “a man so enamored of ancient stories of chivalry and derring-do that he sheds his cloak of sanity and dons a suit of armor” to become the dauntless knight known as Don Quixote.
Thus opens the Dale Wasserman’s beloved musical, now playing at Lakewood Theatre through June 12.
Though many references to and characters from Cervantes’s classic novel Don Quixote are in evidence, this is not a depiction of the original picaresque tale. Rather it is a play within a play directed by the character Cervantes who also performs as the don. This motif gives the audience not only first-class entertainment but a cutting social message. It unfolds brilliantly as muleteers, a prostitute named Aldonza (Pam Mahon), and other prisoners transform themselves into an innkeeper and his wife (Stacey Murdock and Susan Overcast), a country priest (Ron Harman), The Duke (Corey Brunish) and other roles imagined by Cervantes. The prisoners are entertained—and entertaining!
Most remarkable in this production is the soaring music. I’ve seen many of these actors before, but not in singing roles. The cast was chosen not only for their acting ability, but for their voices. The chorus of mostly male voices is big and operatic, the solos beautiful, and the orchestra spot on!
Man of La Mancha concludes Lakewood’s 2015-2016 season. Throughout the season, one is consistently impressed with the quality of production this small company has handled with challenging productions such as Man, Golden Boy, and the crazy Bullshot Crummond. Congratulations to Andrew Edwards, the actors, and the amazing Lakewood creative team for a wonderful season of theatre!