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Archive for Friday, February 23, 2007

Traveling ‘Man of La Mancha’ tour a treat for eyes, ears

February 23, 2007

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Chivalry was alive and well on Wednesday night at the Lied Center for the production of "Man of La Mancha." Once again, the "Knight of the Woeful Countenance" lay down the "melancholy burden of sanity," took up his sword and charged the windmills of ugliness, brutality, corruption and vice. The 1965 musical written by Dale Wasserman with Mitch Leigh's music and Joe Darion's lyrics has enjoyed a long career on Broadway, in film, revival and tours.

This tour from Phoenix Entertainment and CJ Entertainment Korea, directed and choreographed by Sam Viverito, featured some highly creditable performances from its fairly young cast.

Instantly impressive was the set, which did more than suggest the massive dungeon into which writer Miguel de Cervantes (Steve McCoy) is thrown as he awaits trial by the Inquisition. There he tells the story of idealistic knight Don Quixote using his fellow inmates as characters in his drama.

In the play within the play, Cervantes becomes Alonsa Quijana, a kind old gentleman inspired by stories of chivalry who now imagines himself as Don Quixote de la Mancha, traveling the countryside with his faithful squire Sancho (Michael Barra), seeking "a measure of grace" in a cruel and indifferent world. In his fantasies, windmills become giants and run-down wayside inns become castles as he soldiers on in his quest.

McCoy is a fine actor who handles the dual role of Cervantes/Quixote with grace and skill. His pleasant baritone is serviceable in this familiar music although one wishes at times for more spine-tingling resonance.

His rendition of the show's signature song, "The Impossible Dream," was adequate but disappointingly careless with rhythms occasionally causing a breakdown between singer and orchestra.

Every knight must have his lady, and so too does Don Quixote. Aldonza (Tess Rohan), "born on a dung heap to die on a dung heap," is discarded by the world, scratching out an existence any way she can, including selling herself to the variety of men who pass through the inn. But to Quixote, she is "Dulcinea," the lady of his inspiration. Rohan brings both fire and pathos to a difficult role. Aldonza/Dulcinea is hard to sing and difficult to perform, but Rohan took command of the stage, especially in the second act, revealing all of Aldonza's contradictions.

As Sancho, Barra does what any good sidekick should: He nearly steals the show. Possessed of a really fine voice (often cleverly disguised by the nasally Sancho-sound) and superb comic skills, Barra fully embodies the lovable character who follows Quijana around the country playing his game simply because he "likes him." A true friend indeed.

The cast of this tour is uniformly strong. The men's rendition of the beautiful "Little Bird" harmonies was simply breathtaking, and the quartet in "We're Only thinking of Him" had a lovely well-balanced sound.

It's not hard to understand the appeal of "Man of La Mancha." Its idealism triumphs over squalid reality, reminding us: "Love not what thou art but what thou might become." Who can possibly resist such philosophy?

- Sarah Young is a lecturer in Kansas University's English department. She can be reached at youngsl@ku.edu.

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