As soon as you enter TheatreWorks in New Milford, you will marvel at the “Man of La Mancha” set designed by Leif Smith and constructed by Shagbargh Hickory. Designed as a stone dungeon in Spain at the end of the 1500s, everything about the set looks appropriately ominous. When a huge and heavy dark staircase slowly empties into a room of prisoners, you’re ready to meet Cervantes/Don Quixote and his trusted companion Sancho. With Peter Petrino’s lighting design and Morgan Kelsey’s heart thumping music direction, expect a dramatic entrance of the title character, a tax collector who has been charged with foreclosing on a monastery.
If the Spanish Inquisition is not enough to scare the two new prison arrivals, the other occupants of the dungeon are equally threatening. Cervantes is also a poet and playwright and when a prisoner grabs his manuscript, Cervantes begs the opportunity to plead his case. And so the play within the play begins. Cervantes plays Don Quixote, an idealist who wants to bring justice to the world and wants more than anything to be a knight.
The New Milford production has its high and low points. The first act had its fair share of issues, mostly because the pacing was slow and the vocals were not strong. Act II fared better with the actors more confident and even the voices became stronger as the pace picked up. One thing is for certain, the actors put everything they had into the show.
As Cervantes moves through his storytelling and Quixote attempts to rescue Aldonza/Dulcinea, idealism looks as though it doesn’t stand a chance in such a cynical and sinister world. Quixote’s imagination has revived chivalry for a short span, but when a mirror is turned on him and he sees himself as the rest of the world sees him, he knows all is lost. He is seen as an old man who has lost his senses.
Though the prisoners enjoy the story as performed by the inmates and Cervantes, that huge staircase comes down again and Cervantes and his manservant are headed for a different trial. The show ends with a rousing rendition of “The Impossible Dream.”
“Man of La Mancha” plays all over the world and will continue to do so because we do have dreamers in our world who create amazing works of art in many genres. The musical also has other great musical numbers like “Dulcinea” and “I’m Only Thinking of Him” and “Little Bird, Little Bird.”
Overall, the production directed by Francis A. Daley conveyed the story accurately. A major problem turned out to be that stunning staircase that eventually became so obviously cumbersome that whenever it came down, it was a major project. It took the audience if not the actors right out of the show and pulled attention to the pulley system that worked even harder when those stairs had to go up. It actually upstaged the actors.
As for the voices, I remember reading that originally, Rex Harrison was supposed to create the role of Cervantes. However, he didn’t have the voice for it, even though he did okay with “My Fair Lady.” The vocals for this show were too demanding for him, so the part was given to Richard Kiley. This musical was performed originally at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam.
Frederick Rueck plays the lead and puts his heart and soul into the role. John Lino Ponzini plays his side kick and Elizeth Brito as Aldonza does deliver some sweet vocals. It is a large cast and includes: Viv Berger, Roger Grace, Peter Philip, Morgana Kate Watson, Erin Walsh, Rob Pawlikowski, Nick Raines, Richard Chad Frey, Alexis M. Vournazos, Lindsey Partelow, Maya Jennings Daley, Chris Marker and Marsha Prophet.
Mitch Leigh’s music was provided by onstage musicians Morgan Kelsey, guitar; Ryan Asbridge, flutist; and Edward James Murphy III, percussion.
The production runs through Dec. 30. Box office: 860-350-6863.
Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: [email protected].