Reviewed by Joseph Michael Mishler
Man of La Mancha reigns at Stratford, Ontario, at the Shakespeare Festival. This is a moving, rousing and energetic production. Actually, the word stunning works better.
Man of La Mancha is the story of Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. Cervantes died at a young age after being a soldier and then a slave for five years. Don Quixote’s story lives on through the book and the musical. In the story Cervantes is arrested along with his servant. They are imprisoned waiting the inquisition. In prison, the inmates proceed to rob him only to discover what he possesses is his written story. They are going to burn it and he begs them to try him. That is where the story begins.
The musical Man of La Mancha was written by Dale Wasserman with music by Mitch Leigh, and lyrics by Joe Danlon.
We all go on quests. The most important thing about a quest is that we must finish no matter what happens. Don Quixote is an excellent example of this idea. Go after it, no matter what. We don’t have to stick with tradition because it is easier; we can break from it and go in a different direction. Everyone tilts at windmills from time to time.
The set greeted us first as we entered the theatre. A massive set depicts the nasty environs of a dungeon. Behind the set, and much larger, stands a windmill that actually works. It is captivating because it is always present and almost always moving. The prison is dingy, nasty, and has a cast of characters one can only wish never to meet. The Governor, played by Shane Carty, who also plays the Innkeeper, runs this prison.
Cervantes/Don Quixote/Alonso Quijana are all played by Tom Rooney. He is a gem to watch. Transformations to each character are flawless and breathtaking. Excellent is the only way to describe his performance.
Aldonza played by Robin Hutton is a ball of fire throughout the musical. She plays the noble woman Don Quixote loves even though she is not one. Her dancing and singing were spectacular. When the inmates attack her, the dance scene is a wonder and a horror to watch. Coupled with the fight scene where Don Quixote, Aldonza, and Sancho take on the inmates has no match.
Sancho played by Steve Ross also gave a strong performance. He gives us the other side of Don Quixote. The cast of Man of La Mancha deserved and received a tremendous standing ovation. The play moved in unison from start to finish. They took the audience to the heights and then dropped us only to do it again and again.
“The Impossible Dream” was clearly a favorite number with the audience. The play ends with the song as Don Quixote is taken to the Inquisition.
The orchestra was wonderful; the choreography was brilliant. Some of the dances were extremely complicated but were flawlessly done by the cast. The director, the cast, and the crew earned a rousing, sustained standing ovation.
I rate Man of La Mancha a 5+ and recommend it if you are going to Stratford. If you have never been to Stratford and are an avid theatregoer, you should consider a trip. They have four theatres and shows are performed every day, but Monday. They perform a variety of plays other than Shakespeare. There are also a lot of good restaurants for dining and plenty of places to stay.
Man of La Mancha runs until October 11 at the Avon Theatre. Stratford’s Shakespeare Festival is north of London, Ontario. You can find out more by calling 1-800-567-1600 or 1-519-273-1600. Their website is stratfordfestival.ca, and they are on Facebook.