Theater Review – ‘Man of LaMancha’
September 16, 2018
By Jeb Ladouceur
When I heard recently that Senator John McCain had decided to suspend the medical treatments that were keeping him alive … and that he had already planned every detail of his incipient funeral, including the music that he felt would best eulogize him … my first thought centered on ‘The Impossible Dream,’ from Man of La Mancha. That’s how iconic the anthem to perseverance has become for me.
As things turned out, we all now know, McCain chose to be extolled with a recorded Frank Sinatra rendition of ‘My Way,’ the stirring ballad of autobiographical praise written by Paul Anka. I remember wondering as Sinatra’s voice filled the church during the Arizona Senator’s memorial service, how much more enobling the affair might have been had the classic La Mancha ode to courage been McCain’s choice.
But there is an ancient Roman expression (“de mortuis nil nisi bonum”) which literally translated means “Let nothing be said of the dead but what is good.” Fair enough. It was, after all, John’s funeral, and if he was comfortable with the ringing tributes of ‘My Way’ and somewhat curiously, ‘Danny Boy,’ so be it.
Still, as I attended the opening of ‘Man of La Mancha’ at Northport’s lush Engeman Theatre last Saturday, and ‘The Impossible Dream’ was performed (magnificently, I must say) my mind wandered back to the Capitol Rotunda and the National Cathedral, where a courageous John McCain’s flag-draped coffin had been attended so honorably by members of the military. For those sad hours, I concluded internally that ‘The Impossible Dream’ was indeed John’s song.
But putting sentiment aside, it should be noted that musically … musically, mind you … Man of La Mancha is a sort of one-trick-pony. When the play’s unforgettable anthem isn’t being belted out by the production’s star, Richard Todd Adams, the other numbers frankly pale to near-insignificance by comparison. This is not as fatal as the observation might lead one to believe, however. For it’s during these musical lulls that Miguel de Cervantes’ immortal Don Quixote story line takes over and makes the adaption the memorable piece of theater it has become.
When it was introduced on the Broadway stage in 1965, not surprisingly, the heart-warming tale of a knight who sets out to restore gallantry to mankind, won Tony Awards for both Best Musical and Best Musical Score. The production moved to a number of playhouses on the Great White Way before making its final 2,328th performance at the Mark Hellinger Theatre in 1971.
An interesting aside involves the iconic Rex Harrison who, having earned innumerable plaudits starring in My Fair Lady, was seriously considered for the Don Quixote role when Man of La Mancha was testing the theatrical waters in Connecticut. Unfortunately for Harrison, the musical demands of the score proved too much for poor Henry Higgins’ vocal range … and Richard Kiley wound up in the difficult role.
Performing in Northport with leading man Richard Adams are Broadway veterans Janet Dacal (she plays a peppery Aldonza) and Carlos Lopez (as the Don’s little sidekick, Sancho Panza). Both stars bring memorable performances worthy of Northport’s renowned theater … no small accomplishment when one considers the height at which Engeman invariably sets the bar for its featured artists. For example, the great Phyllis March plays the strong, opinionated Housekeeper to absolute perfection. She delivers her somewhat lesser role so artfully that we can’t take our eyes off of her. Aspiring actors would do well to study Ms. March’s technique.
This dream of a show runs thru Sunday, October 28. If I were a school teacher, I’d give extra credit to any student who brought me a Man of La Mancha ticket stub … and of course, an apple.