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"Man of La Mancha"

by Brad Hathaway, Potomac Stages

Reviewed October 2002

Heft. This show has heft, weight and substance in every element. Gone is the minimalist approach of the original. Director Jonathan Kent has chosen a "maximalist" approach for this revival of the musical drama in which sixteenth century poet Miguel Cervantes stages the story of Don Quixote de la Mancha, knight errant, who fights for right and chivalry. The approach results in a show that is impressive, compelling and thoroughly satisfying. 

This is Brian Stokes Mitchell’s show. His performance matches the heft of the rest, soaring to great heights of emotion, capturing small details and above all singing the gorgeous score with a richness that serves the revival just as well as did the voice of the original, Richard Kiley. He is everything Cervantes/Quixote must be. His Quixote is addled and befuddled at times but, clearly, Mitchell never is. He is in control and in command every moment in a part that makes great demands. The way his Cervantes manipulates the prison leadership and connives to extend the play to buy time is nicely contrasted to the doddering persona of his Quixote. His comic touches are light, but carry their impact to the rear balcony while his voice fills the room with his deeply resonant baritone.

The high point of Mithcell’s performance is, as it must be, the high point of the evening as he sings the show’s best known song, "The Impossible Dream." He acts the song as well as singing it, making each line of the lyric mean something special in its dramatic setting, giving it a poignancy that is a revelation. This is no mean trick for a song many in the audience have heard so many times and know so well. 

Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, as the whore/serving wench Quixote sees as a Lady, is a good match for Mitchell. Her stage presence is strong enough, her singing pure enough and her acting clear enough to create a fine balance between the leads. In addition, she makes a major contribution to "The Impossible Dream" as she listens to Quixote. Mitchell is singing the song to her to explain his quest and it is her reactions that give him the springboard to make the scene so much more than just a song. 

The cast also includes top-flight talent like Ernie Sabella, who makes an impish Sancho, and Mark Jacoby who is a smooth presence as the Padre. Stephen Bogardus fills out the part of the heavy with both strong voice and menacing presence. Don Mayo creates two different very satisfying characters as the prison’s "governor" who acts as the "innkeeper" in Cervantes’ play. His singing, however, seems a stretch in "The Dubbing/Knight of the Woeful Countenance." Jamie Torcellini makes an impression in his brief scenes as the barber. 

Paul Brown’s towering set is a show in itself. Seeming to rise all the way to the sky, the metal prison walls twist open to reveal hints of the world of Cervantes’ story of Don Quixote while confining and containing the prison world. Paul Gallo’s lights are every bit as much a part of the scenes as the set. Together, they create a weighty world just right for Kent’s vision of the show. 

Robert Billig leads the very full sounding orchestra and gets clear, clean vocal work out of the entire cast. His forces benefit immensely from the smooth enhancement of Tony Meola’s sound design. At the opening of the Exclusive Pre-Broadway Engagement (what used to be called the out of town tryout) there were moments early in the evening when the balance was still being adjusted. But once the mixer had found his mark, the show has a consistency of its aural heft that matches the visual, musical and dramatic heft that Kent adopted. What’s more, Meola must be responsible for the echoey metallic effects that accompany the set movements and the clanging down the stairs that do as much to create the ambiance of Paul Brown's towering set as Paul Gallo's lights.  

Sadly, the powerful overture of the original has been jettisoned, perhaps in the interest of time. The show was written for performance without the interruption of an intermission and that is how they perform it. It still runs over two hours, but on opening night, no one seemed fidgety or impatient for the evening to end. 

They should put the overture back! 

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Directed by: Jonathan Kent

Written by: Dale Wasserman

Music: Mitch Leigh, New Dance Arrangements by David Krane arranged by Brian Besterman

Lyrics: Joe Darion

Choreographed by: Luis Perez

Design: Paul Brown (set and costumes) Paul Gallo (lights) Tony Meola (sound)

Cast Reviewed: Brian Stokes Mitchell, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Ernie Sabella, Mark Jacoby, Stephen Bogardus, Don Mayo, Bradley Dean, Natascia Diaz, Olga Merediz, Frederick B. Owens, Jamie Torcellini

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