Herbert Wolff Reviews "Man of La Mancha"

Jun 19, 2015

Man of La Mancha at Barrington Stage
Credit Barrington Stage

Many of us who attend and are earnest about summer theater productions in the Berkshire – for this reviewer it’s been almost 40 years – we often wonder to what extent an Artistic Director must consider the limitations of time, budget and availability of performers. And, in order to attract the necessary audience, does he/she try to schedule a season of well-known and popular stage works that nicely fit those limitations? Or, does an Artistic Director look for theatre pieces that challenge both the audience and the performers, and raise their expectations for success.

The latter certainly must be the desire of Julianne Boyd of Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. For the past few seasons, she has opened – and very successfully produced – full-blown Broadway musicals such as Sweeney Todd, Guys and Dolls, Fiddler on the Roof …and most recently, On the Town, which moved directly to – and is still playing on – Broadway.

Ms. Boyd now has produced and directed an outstanding rendering of Man of La Mancha... a musical written by Dale Wasserman…music by Mitch Leigh…and lyrics by Joe Darion. Man of La Mancha first opened 50 years ago at the Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut, starring Rex Harrison. But the role of Don Quixote was too taxing for his voice, and after a number of small theater attempts, the show became a big hit starring Richard Kiley…eventually running more than 2,000 performances on Broadway.

The story of Man of La Mancha, of course, is based upon the 17th century classic novel by Miguel Cervantes. But there is more to the story of Don Quixote than “tilting at windmills” (the modern idiom used to imply a heroic effort against a vain goal). It involves life, living, imagining, wonder, and hope.

The title role of Don Quixote in this production at Barrington Stage is not too taxing for Jeff McCarthy. His resonate baritone voice is perfectly suited to the role and the most remembered song in the show, “The Impossible Dream.” His delivery is full of belief and beauty, with tension building with every line. His dignity infuses his character, and this production, with depth and wonder.

The leading female part in the show is that of Aldonza – or Dulcinea as Don Quixote believes her to be. This is wonderfully portrayed by Felicia Boswell. The role asks a lot of an actress, and Ms. Boswell responds with the necessary fire…most especially in the musical number, where she details the hurt and anger she has endured.

There are many other outstanding performances: Alan Robbins as the ever-faithful Sancho Panza, explaining in simple terms why he serves as the squire to Don Quixote in “I Really Like Him.” There is also a quartet deftly performed by Rosalie Burke, Tod Horman, Sean McLaughlin, and Meg Bussert…expressing their supposed concern for the Don in “We’re Only Thinking of Him.”

Every scene in this production is well executed, including the choreography provided by Greg Graham.

Mention also must be made of the stage setting by James Krozner, lighting by Chris Lee, sound design by Ed Chapman, and costumes by Olivera Gajic. Their collaborative efforts complement the stage direction – and, of course, the choice of the play – by Julliane Boyd…and the musical direction of Daren Cohen.

If I haven’t stressed it enough, this is truly a summer theater treat.

Man of La Mancha plays now through July 11th at Barrington Stage Company, Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

Herbert Wolff studied under the guidance of Lee Strasberg and subsequently had roles with summer theater companies in upstate New York and on live television. He is former vice president of International Television Association and former Chairman of Massachusetts Advisory Council on Scientific and Technical Education. Herb continues to write, direct and appear in stage plays. For 25 years he has been the on-air reviewer of theater and opera productions for WAMC Northeast Public Radio.

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