Man of La Mancha

The Tony Award Winning Musical “Man of La Mancha” has opened at the Alhambra, 12000 Beach Boulevard, in Jacksonville, Florida, and will be on stage through October 12, 2014. The quest of the Dual Critics is to inspire you to experience Dale Wasserman‘s classic musical, which debuted in 1965 and received five Tonys, including “Best Musical” and “Best Original Score.” The musical remained on Broadway for a run of 2,328 productions, and was followed by several successful revivals. Visit alhambrajax.com or call (904) 641-1212 for reservations.

For those who have never seen the musical, you need to know a bit of the plot. The work is based on a novel by Miquel de Cervantes titled “Don Quixote” which was published in 1605 after Cervantes had served time in a Spanish jail. It is structured as a play within a play, and begins as Cervantes and his manservant are brought to the common room of a prison constructed of stone to await a hearing with members of the Inquisition. Their fellow prisoners decide to hold a mock trial, planning to find Cervantes guilty and appropriate his possessions as a penalty. They agree to allow Cervantes to present the play he has been working on as a defense.

In the play, Cervantes becomes a man who has set reality aside and emerges as a self proclaimed knight with the grand title of Don Quixote de La Mancha, accompanied by his loyal servant Pancho, and he succeeds in persuading the other prisoners to portray characters in the drama. His story becomes an inspiration to pursue personal quests with courage, optimism, unfailing dedication, and unparalleled chivalry. Ultimately, the point is: Never give up your dreams, no matter how unrealistic they seem to be. The story is engrossing and will hold you spellbound.

Those who have previously seen the show may also refer to it as “The Impossible Dream” musical, due to the fame of its signature tune, which has been a popular recording choice for many famous artists since its stage introduction.

You may be asking “Is this production worth my time: does it capture the magic and spirit of the show?” Yes, yes, yes, on all counts.

La Mancha rises and falls on the performance of the main character, Cervantes/Quixote and this version is in the accomplished hands of Christopher Sanders, who brings considerable charm and magnetism to a challenging role. He also brings a gorgeously rich and full voice to the part. He is the most powerful La Mancha we have ever seen in our many viewings of this popular musical. Alhambra regulars may remember him from his 2013 performance in “South Pacific.”

What makes this production a standout is the talented cast who make even the smallest roles shine. Director/Producer Tod Booth‘s gift for casting and eliciting believable performances makes this one a winner all the way.

Lauren Gemelli is fiery and lusty as Aldonza/ Dulcinea, and has the ability to wrap herself in a song and make it her own with her remarkable voice. Longtime Alhambra favorite Gary Marachek is Sancho, Quixote’s sidekick, who provides much of the comedy.

Steve Osborn, another veteran Alhambra performer, is in fine voice as the Padre. Osborn’s impressive resume includes Broadway and National Tours. Well known local actor Ross Frontz has a solo as the barber and as one of the muleteers, is joined by Monté Howell, Derik Lawson, Jereme Raickett, and recent UNF classical voice graduate Jacob Rothman (who also appears as Captain of the Inquisition). Orlando actor Stephan James Jones makes his excellent Alhambra debut as The Innkeeper and The Governor.

It was good to have Matthew Jay Campbell back again, this time in three impressive roles as Duke/Dr. Carrasco and the Knight of the Mirrors. As the Doctor, he conveys his objections to what he considers Cervantes’s doddering foolishness as a knight.

Patti Eyler as Maria the housekeeper is, as always, very impressive, no matter what role she is playing. Jessella Jaramill, fresh from “Shrek,” the Alhambra’s summer show, is the sinuous Moorish dancer Fermina. Michelle Barry as Antonia rounds out the cast.

Choreographer James Kinney‘s work was excellent and we were especially impressed by the tactful yet striking way he handled the abduction scene of Aldonza by the muleteers in Act II.

Musical Director Cathy Murphy Giddens had some remarkable voices to work with and the result was musical theatre showmanship at its best, with each song infused with emotion.

The period costumes by the Costume Crew were authentic and contributed much to this richly atmospheric production. And pay attention to the way Lighting Designer Craig Scurti handled the famous windmill scene; you will see only the outline of the windmill turning against the prison wall. David Dionne‘s set design is already the talk of the town as being one of his best. It takes us deep into a Spanish prison and since the Alhambra was built and originally designed like a Spanish fort, it is as though the entire building becomes the set.

Since we started mentioning the food for each review, we find that this is a popular subject for our readers. This play is set in Spain, so Chef Dejuan Roy is offering tantalizing Spanish taste treats. The pallea, a famous Spanish dish, contains among other things, generous amounts of chicken, shrimp, and chorizo. For beef lovers, there is Ropa Vieja, with shredded beef, black beans, yellow rice and stewed tomatoes with vegetables. We will let you discover the other entrées and the desserts on the Alhambra’s website.

Director Tod Booth again proves that he is one of the best musical theatre directors in America. All the music is excellent and you will be surprised at how well you know many of the songs; the only thing that could have made this an even more perfect evening would have been if after the curtain call, with the entire cast on stage, Mr. Sanders as Quixote would have reprised his fabulous “The Impossible Dream.”

You can take your own journey with this woeful knight until October 12. Don’t miss this marvelous production of ‘Man of La Mancha.”

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.
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