In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. No American child will ever forget that fact.
In 1605, Miguel de Cervantes wrote the novel about the adventures of the chivalrous knight Don Quixote and his squire Sancho Panza. No person who can read any of the dozens of languages into which it has been translated will ever forget “The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha.”
In 1965, Dan Wasserman took Cervantes’ work and wrote the script of a musical play with lyrics by Joe Darion and music by Mitch Leigh. No lover of theatre in the world will ever forget the moment “Man of La Mancha” was brought to the stage!
Cervantes told the story of a middle-aged man, Alonso Quijana, searching for a romantic life of chivalry and adventure as Don Quixote, who commandeers a hapless farmer to be his squire and aid him in curing the evils of the world and most importantly, serving his love from afar, the Lady Dulcinea.
It only took 350 years for Wasserman’s writing team to move the story to the Spanish Inquisition and throw Cervantes and Panza into a dungeon awaiting their trial for heresy. As a traveling actor, our hero is tried first by the kangaroo court in his dismal surroundings; if he can convince them that, as Quixote, he is the “Man of La Mancha;” that he is only following his quest of “The Impossible Dream;” that he only searches to aid his Lady “Dulcinea,” then he knows he will be able to satisfy the Grand Inquisitor.
Luckily, when arrested, Cervantes aka Alonso Quijana, aka Don Quixote, was in possession of his theatrical trunk with his theatre’s costumes and properties therein. Therefore, when telling his story for his cell-mates’ court, Cervantes enlists their aid to re-enact the parts of his story’s characters.
Director W. L. Larsen easily handles his cast of 16, conveying proper interpretation of each actor’s role. He makes the transition from dungeon inmate to actor’s given character look natural, as though these frightened denizens of the cells are willing to take their fear of their own turn before the inquisition out on the latest prey to enter their midst.
This play within a play is enhanced by Bruce Haasl’s set which moves the boulder-constructed depths of the forgotten lair to the theatre’s stage using the aisle on audience right as the entrance to the gloomy quarters.
John Chenault’s lighting design adds to the hopefulness of the woe-filled residents.
Music Director Jeffrey Stvrtecky brings out the best of voices of the talented cast as he lifts his baton for the 15-piece orchestra to follow. Stvrtecky directs, on Reeds: Judy Lantz, Roxane Hreha, Don Miller, Lynn Zatkin, Michael LaBrecque and Harrison Storm; French Horns: Mark Willis and Ashley Smith; Trumpets: Michael Leavens and Rick Leffler; Trombones: Ashish Meloottu and Mick Crosby; Guitar is Michael Hemming; String Bass is Jesse Kuras; and Percussionists Iris McBride and Barbara Burzynski.
All the actors have good singing voices and possess competent acting ability, or they wouldn’t have been cast in this exceptional TMP production. They also play more than one role, keeping them separate in the audiences eye attests to their capability.
Megan Castillo plays a Kitchen Worker, Fermina, A Prisoner, a Guard and a Mirror Knight. Sue Brabham is a Kitchen Worker, Maria and a Horse. Ross Adamson plays a Prisoner, Juan, a Gypsy and a Monk. Cameron Brown is a Prisoner, Pedro and a Mirror Knight. Xander Morbus is also a Prisoner, Jose, a Gypsy and a Monk. Michael McLaren is a Prisoner, Anselmo, a Mirror Knight and a Guard. Jeremy Force is Captain of the Inquisition, a Prisoner, a Muleteer and a Horse. Jeff Barehand sings the Duke and Dr. Sanson Carrrasco quite well; his character causes much of our hero’s woes.
Brittany D. Henderson is another Kitchen Worker, Housekeeper, Guard and Gypsy Dancer. Lisa Wright Thiroux is the final Kitchen Worker and Gypsy Dancer. However, as Antonia, along with Henderson’s Housekeeper, they excel as Quijana’s niece and servant who plaintively sing “I’m Only Think of Him.” They are joined by Lance Zielinski as the Padre, who adds his voice to the melancholy number.
Steven James Walker plays a Prisoner, Tenorio, a Gypsy and the Barber; he brings a change of pace to the show with his comical “Barber’s Song.” John Miller is the Governor and the Innkeeper. As the Innkeeper, Miller gives our hero his much deserved title when he handsomely sings, “Knight of the Woeful Countenance.”
This leaves us with the three principle players.
Nancy Hebert is Aldonza and our Knight’s beloved Dulcinea. Hebert has quite a nice singing voice but when she brings her earthy interpretation to the crude song which bears her name, “Aldonza,” she has the audience enthralled.
John Cooper is Miguel De Cervantes, Alonso Quijana and our beloved Don Quixote. Cooper has a powerful and expressive voice which stirs deep feelings for the role. In a word, Cooper is technically perfect. However, he didn’t quite show the anxiety of possible reprisals from the inquisition one would expect Quijana to have.
Sam Barker wins the audience over with his comic portrayal of the every faithful Sancho Panza. When he sings “I Really Like Him,” his emotions ring clear the song’s meaning. He is long-suffering and loyal. There is no better squire a Knight could ask to attend him.
“Man of La Mancha” continues at Tacoma Musical Playhouse at 7116 Sixth Avenue, just east of Jackson, through April 6, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.
For reservations or more information, call the box office at (253) 565-6867 or go online to www.tmp.org.
Cervantes’ much read novel appears near the top of every important list of the greatest novels ever written. The musical play based on this great work, “Man of La Mancha,” equals the importance of the original work. In fact, it could even surpass it because of the heart swelling music and lyrics. The Tacoma Musical Playhouse production of this heroic musical piece is justly moving and stirring. Don’t miss this dynamic evening of theatre.