Theater review: ‘Man of La Mancha’ receives sparkling treatment at Cap Rep

“Man of La Mancha,” that 1964 Tony Award-winning chestnut by Dale Wasserman, Mitch Leigh and Joe Dar
PHOTOGRAPHER:

‘Man of La Mancha’

WHERE: Capital Repertory Theatre, 111 N. Pearl St., Albany

WHEN: Friday through Dec. 17

HOW MUCH: $70-$40

MORE INFO: 445-7469, www.capitalrep.org

“Man of La Mancha,” that 1964 Tony Award-winning chestnut by Dale Wasserman, Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion, is being given a sumptuous treatment by Capital Repertory Theatre, thanks to the large vision of director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill. She has assembled a first-rate cast (anchored by the estimable Kevin McGuire), snagged a gifted musical director — Adam Jones — and pulled out all the stops with her production crew. You’re going to like what you see and hear.

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For Gazette theater writer Bill Buell’s preview of this show, click here.

This is, of course, Wasserman’s take on Cervantes’ “Don Quixote.” Cervantes (McGuire) and his servant (Robert Anthony Jones) have been thrown into prison on charges of foreclosing on a church and are awaiting trial with the Inquisition. (The program’s reference to the Spanish Civil War is unclear, the guards’ costumes notwithstanding.) They are insulted by the other prisoners, who decide to put them on trial themselves, with all of Cervantes’ possessions at stake. The author asks to defend himself, so he can keep his precious literary manuscript, which is up for burning.

Knight’s story

His defense consists of telling a story about the adventures of a would-be knight, Don Quixote, a story the other prisoners begin to act out. Quixote is, of course, the knight who sees the world as he wants it to be, not the cruel, degrading reality other people live in. For this reason he’s considered a madman by the realists, but his optimism and kindness have transformative powers, particularly on a local inn’s scullery maid, Aldonza (Anne Fraser Thomas), whom he dubs Dulcinea.

The narrative ultimately affects the prisoners-turned-actors, who, when the time comes for Cervantes to meet the Inquisition, give him back his precious book.

From time to time the fiction is interrupted by Cervantes’ real-life circumstances. This play-within-a-play conceit is seamlessly executed, thanks to Stephen Quandt’s lighting design, David Thomas’s sound design, and a stunning set by Roman Tatarowicz that allows the action to flow.

Susan Cicarelli Caputo’s choreography and David Bunce’s fight routines are apt and eye-catching, and Anna Lacivita’s costume design fits the styles of both worlds.

Many of the performers do double and triple duty, singing, dancing and playing instruments on stage. Jeffrey Funaro, for example, one of the prisoners, has skills as a trumpet player as well as vocal chops and dance moves. Ditto Emily Mikesell, a singing actress and violinist/flutist.

Vocal honors

Vocal honors go to David Sutton as the Padre in “I’m Only Thinking of Him” and “To Each His Dulcinea.” Joe Phillips’ “Barber’s Song” and Scott Wakefield’s “The Dubbing” are comic highlights.

Jones, this production’s answer to Nathan Lane, gets great mileage out of “I Really Like Him,” musically polished and funny as all get-out. In fact, he could steal the show if he wanted to, so neat is his timing and expressive his puss.

Thomas has a handful of songs that cover a wide emotional range, and she’s up to the task. She takes the measure of the bitter “Aldonza” and the pathos of “What Does He Want of Me?”

And if McGuire undersings a mid-range note here or there, he has the requisite panache to put across every song he’s given. “Dulcinea”? Affecting. “The Impossible Dream”? Heroic. “Man of La Mancha”? Straight ahead. He’s also thoroughly credible in his shift from Cervantes to Quixote, both vocally and physically. He enunciates fastidiously, befitting a character who loves language, and his final scene as Quijana (Quixote) is heartbreaking.

Appropriate sentiments

In her curtain speech on Tuesday night, Mancinelli-Cahill mentioned the joys of the upcoming Thanksgiving season, and the holidays beyond. The sentiments embodied in this story of an imaginative man who sees the good in everyone seem to be especially relevant to this time of year.

Categories: Life and Arts

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