Even though the action takes place in a dungeon and the cast members,
including the title character, are supposed to be outcasts, La Mancha has
the lushest-looking set MGR has had all summer. Scenic designer Czerton
Lim, costume designer Garth Dunbar, lighting designer Ben Hagen, hair
and makeup designer Lisa Rokicki and production stage manager Bernita
Robinson have joined forces to ensure that MGR’s production values equal
or exceed those of any company in the area, summer or winter. There are
forbidding stone walls, menacing shackles, gleaming soldiers’ helmets,
fetid beggars and gypsies, and the drawbridge to hell, or at least the
Spanish Inquisition. None of this ever clogs the action but instead
seems to give confidence to all those out-of-town players that theater
in Auburn aims at the big time.
Setting itself apart from so many previous productions, MGR’s Man of La Mancha is
directed by a woman, Jen Waldman, and choreographed by another, Lori
Leshner. Where this matters most is in the characterization of Aldonza
(Esther Stilwell) and the way she is, um, treated. Trained in
Shakespeare at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, Stilwell gives
Aldonza such a graceful carriage that it doesn’t really seem too absurd
that Don Quixote (played by David M. Lutken) should start referring to
her as the idealized Dulcinea. Her insouciant solo, “It’s All the Same,”
ordinarily a shrug that there’s little difference which man pays to
sleep with her, almost seems like a haughty boast. More importantly,
when the muleteers seek to violate her, often done crudely on a table,
it happens offstage and her humiliation is only implied in dance steps.
The harmony of director and choreographer teases the imagination of
the viewer again and again, giving the production a most agreeable
flavor. In the title song near the beginning of the first act, Don
Quixote and sidekick Sancho Panza (Patrick Riviere) mount their horses
to go questing. In many productions two dancers put on paper masks or
false heads to suggest the steeds the two men are riding, but here all
is implied when two dancers (not named) affect high, equine steps.
Later, two different dancers (also not named) rotate their arms behind a
white muslin sheet to mime the blades of the windmills.
One of director Waldman’s decisions to clarify the themes of Man of La Mancha might
unsettle some audience members. Because Don Quixote is a persona that
imprisoned author Miguel de Cervantes assumes in the play within a play,
he is often portrayed as a bit bombastic and full of himself. “The
Impossible Dream” can become a baritone showpiece with volume to peel
the paint off the walls. Here Walden and Lutken see the character as a
bit more fey, if not fatalistic. This time the created character does
not shed his author’s awareness of why the dream is indeed impossible.
Lutken unmistakably has the lungs to blow us away, but his
reflectiveness and restraint makes us pay more attention to the words as
well as the tricky plot twists.
Not that he is ever denied the chance to let us hear what he has to offer. Part of Man of La Mancha’s
high reputation comes from the demands and the lyricism found
throughout the score. It is one of a handful of Broadway musicals, along
with West Side Story, Carousel and Kiss Me Kate, that
is regularly performed by opera companies. Lutken’s winning
expressiveness enriches the first act’s “Dulcinea,” joined by Anselmo
(Chris Causer), the most musical of the muleteers, along with the chorus
of muleteers. These voices are again joined in the ironic “Little Bird,
Little Bird,” along with another muleteer, Pedro (Bruce Warren).
The two other leads each have two solos. Aldonza’s “What Does He Want
of Me?” in the first act reveals the dismay of an innocent but
indifferent person, not what Quixote wants to hear. Her second-act
“Aldonza’s Song” still rattles us, as well as we know the story, calling
herself “the whore” in affront to Quixote’s idealism. Sancho’s
ingratiating “I Really Like Him” carries with it a note of what is now
called “co-dependence.” Along with being earthier and closer to the
ground, this Sancho relies on the idealism of his master.
As there are 23 players in 28 roles, many excellent contributions to
the whole must go unremarked. The most haunting of these is the sweetly
cynical trio, “I’m Only Thinking of Him,” in which the conniving niece
Antonia (Marisa Fratto) and Housekeeper (Jeannie Hines-Clinton) make
sure they protect themselves and are joined by a tenor singing
counterpoint, the Padre (Alan M-L.Wager). In a reprise they are joined
by Carrasco (Patrick Oliver Jones), the only musical contribution by a
character who imposes on the action elsewhere. Two other solos are
written with a uniquely lyrical irony, the high-spirited “Barber’s Song”
by John McAvaney, and the taunting “Knight of the Woeful Confidence” by
the Innkeeper, played by Jason Simon.
Composer Leigh and lyricist Darion worked together on other shows both before and after Man of La Mancha,
but you’d have to quest far and wide to find anyone who has ever heard
them. Leigh’s only other hit song, if that’s the word for it, is the
advertising jingle, “Nobody Doesn’t Like Sara Lee.” All their musical
treasure is invested in one show, an impossible dream that still touches
This production runs through Sept. 18. See Times Table for information.