|Performances Light Barn's "La Mancha"|
|Saturday, 02 July 2011 17:24|
Many theatrical productions have literary roots, but few reach as far back as those of “Man of La Mancha,,” the musical currently on stage at The Barn Theatre in Augusta, Mich.
Born in the 17th century from the pen of Miguel de Cervantes, the tale of the aged knight errant has crossed the years to become one of the most enduring properties in the history of musical theater.
Reportedly based on an incident in the life of the author, it is presented by Cervantes and his servant as a defense in his trial by prisoners of the Spanish Inquisition who threaten to take all his belongings if they find the soldier/author/tax collector guilty. Using the prisoners to play the characters in his tale, he unfolds the story of Don Quixote de La Mancha and his wildly varied adventures and misadventures.
Described as “a musical play,” “Man of La Mancha” was written by Dale Wasserman, first as a 1959 television play and, in 1965, as a musical with score by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion. Winning five Tony Awards including Best Musical, it has seen four Broadway revivals and become a staple of every regional and civic theater group in the country.
Seeing it again for the umpteenth (?) time I was quite surprised to find that something so familiar still had the power to evoke a tear at the final curtain. OK, So it was written that way and its signature anthem, “The Impossible Dream.,” is a real tearjerker, in or out of the production.
But seeing it on a surprisingly drab and sparse set (lots of black curtains and unconvincingly one dimensional stone walls) with static staging and unexpectedly flat lighting only made it clear that the power of this musical play is in the story it tells and the ability of the performers who are charged with bringing it to life.
I’m sure that a goodly portion of the opening night audience came to see leading man Robert Newman, better known to soap fans as the long-suffering hero Josh Lewis in the late CBS daytime drama “The Guiding Light.” Well, if they came to bemoan his loss to the small screen, they stayed — as did everyone in the near capacity audience — to applaud his live-and-in-person dramatic talent and — who knew? — his more-than-adequate vocal ability.
It took only a brief moment for Newman to replace Josh Lewis with Miguel de Cervantes/Don Quixote. Bridging the gap between television and theater, he delivered a solidly sensitive performance and, as required for the Don, aged rapidly and believably within minutes, sustaining the illusion through comic episodes and dark dramatic moments. And his rendition of “The Impossible Dream” was quite worthy of the extended applause it received.
Newman was not alone in delivering a pleasant surprise. Petite leading lady Penelope Alex created an Aldonza/Dulcinea who faces the ugly reality of her life with courage while hiding a sensitive soul. She does not have a big belt voice but handled the demanding solos with insight and emotional depth,
Barn Equity Company members Roy Brown and Eric Parker portrayed Cervantes’ stubbornly loyal Manservant/Pancho and the cynical Duke/Dr. Carrasco, respectively, with just the required humor and menace. The confrontation between Don Quixote and Carrasco’s Knight of the Mirrors was the production’s visually most impressive moment.
Patrick Hunter doubled as a Captain of the Inquisition and the Padre, and delivered the latter’s “To Each His Dulcinea” and the final “Prayer,” beautifully if, at times, with a bit too much belt. Hans Friedrichs as the Governor/Innkeeper blended disbelief with sympathy in his dealings with the mad knight, although he lacks the rumbling bass baritone needed for “The Dubbing.”
The ensemble became prisoners and a number of characters — including a horse and a mule — in Cervantes’ story, supplying solid vocal support and certainly adequate dance moves. John Jay Espino served as pianist/conductor of the six piece orchestra which did justice to Leigh’s moving score.
Director Brendan Ragotzy also was on stage, joining the cast as a last-minute replacement for an injured muleteer.
"MAN OF LA MANCHA" plays at 5 p.m. today and Sunday and 8:30 p.m. Tuesday through July 10 in the theater on M-96 between Galesburg and Augusta, Mich. For information and reservations call (269) 731-4121 between 10 a.m. a and 10 p.m. daily.
|Last Updated on Saturday, 09 July 2011 19:44|