Review by John Delamar
In came to the Great White Way in 1965 and became a classic. Now it's come to Brooklyn.
To close out their 41st Season, the Gallery Players, have put on one of Broadway's most beloved Classics, THE MAN OF LA MANCHA, and once again they have done commendable things to such a well known show.
MAN OF LA MANCHA, based on the Du Pont Show of the Month original dram, I, DON QUIXOTE, is the story of Miguel de Cervantes' imprisonment by the inquisition. With a book by Dale Wasserman the audience is thrown into the Spanish Inquisition and a jail cell with the author of one of literature's most loved fools.
Director Tom Wotjunik has taken the original MAN OF LA MANCHA and expounded on themes and ideas that most productions before it have simple let slide. Wotjunik has taken the improvised nature of the piece and brought it to the foreground, sacrificing elaborate sets for the simplicity of the jail cell. the show has a more realistic feel to, not so much a glamorous golden age musical, but a real life series of events. Mr. Wotjunik’s choice of using only props that Cervantes might have carried in his traveling theatrical trunk allows the audience to go on the same journey that his fellow inmates are taking.
There is a skill that comes in downpours in this production of MAN OF LA MANCHA, a signature of the current Gallery Players’ season. The show is so finely crafted, with ensemble members so emersed in the goings on on stage, the audience has no choice, but to follow Cervantes down the dark rabbit hole of Don Quixote.
A strong cast lead by Jan-Peter Pedross do more than merely perform parts – they live them. Pedross’ Cervantes is intoxicating, alive, and vital. His desperation shining through the lively title song and somber ballads. One complaint can be lodged against Mr. Pedross, though. MAN OF LA MANCHA is much like GYPSY!, you wait for the song you know, “Impossible Dream”, and when it comes, you want it to be astounding, to really rock the foundation of what you have come to know. Mr. Pedross does not, unfortunately, deliver. His “Impossible Dream” seems to go flat, holding back the power that the song has. His choice to keep it low,to bring it in, loses something. The longing is not there. If not for such a strong performance before and after Quixote would have been lost.
Aldonza, the show’s vixen, played by Jennifer McCabe, on the other hand, gains power. Ms. McCabe’s performance is strong and sultry in the beginning, drawing all eyes to her with “It’s All the Same”, but it’s not until she drives through “Aldonza” with such power and grit, that the character’s arc comes through. Ms. McCabe has a voice that can be beautiful and raw. Her Aldonza is one that should be remember, lauded, and studied. It is a careful journey through despair into rebirth and finally into an abyss so deep, that only her voice could drag it’s bottom.
The show’s true stand out is Robert Anthony Jones, Sancho Panza. His comic timing is genius. Mr. Jones is an actor who inhabits his role with such skill it’s almost impossible not to believe him. His Sancho Panza is at once as adled as Quixote and at times so endearing, that the audience understands why he follows Quixote so blindly.
Although the show’s leads are powerhouses in their own right, it’s the shows ensemble chorus that ground this production of MAN OF LA MANCHA. In many large scale productions the audience is distracted by the ensemble, going in and out of character when they fall to the perephery. These performers, gratefully do not. Mr. Wotjunik keeps his troupe of actors on stage at all times, and when you scan their faces they are enrapt in the drama unraveling before them as the audience. Their performance is just as viable and real as those of the show’s leads, they share the space and engulf it all at the same time, and I must say bravo to them.
To illustrate the power of this production I offer this anectdote. During the final moments of the show, as Quixote lies on his death bed, an errant phone began to ring. Out of the illusion I went. I had not realized, until that moment, how involved I had become with the characters. If their were a Litmus test for theatre I think this would be it.
The Gallery Players have once again reinvisioned a great musical of yesteryear. they have given theatre goers the joy of seeing things they might have missed, spun on their heads and retold in a more modern light. Their 41st season has been a wonderous success and it gives this simple theatre lover hope for the future of the art. I’ll be waiting with baited breath and hook for the 42nd Season and the joys it may bring.