September 23, 2018
By Rita J. Egan
The cast and crew of John W. Engeman Theater’s “Man of La Mancha” have set off on a quest resulting in a production worthy of Broadway. The musical opened at the theater Sept. 13, and on the night of the press opening, Sept. 15, theatergoers filled the venue looking forward to the reincarnation of the perennial favorite.
“Man of La Mancha” debuted off-Broadway in 1965 and went on to win five Tony Awards. Written by Dale Wasserman with music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion, the Northport version is masterfully directed by Peter Flynn.
Taking its cue from literature, the musical takes the story of “Don Quixote” written by Miguel de Cervantes and sets it to music. In the play, which takes place during the Spanish Inquisition at the end of the 16th century, Cervantes is in prison waiting for his trial. Upon his arrival, his fellow prisoners try to take his belongings, including the manuscript of the story he is writing.
Following the tradition of prisoners putting newcomers on trial, Cervantes is charged with being an idealist, and a mock trial begins. The writer, in an attempt to defend himself, has his fellow prisoners play the characters in “Don Quixote.” Through their re-creations, audience members meet Alonso Quijano, the aging man who believes he’s a knight-errant and calls himself Don Quixote. Quijano and his squire Sancho Panza embark on a journey where they meet an array of characters including Aldonza the bitter serving woman and prostitute at an inn who Quixote envisions as a virtuous lady.
Michael Bottari and Ronald Case have gone above and beyond with the detailed set design of a dungeon on the Engeman stage, and Kurt Alger has done an excellent job with costumes, especially with the Knight of Mirrors’ gear in the second act. Choreographed by Devanand Janki, the musical contains high-energy dance numbers that complement the stellar production. The actors and the orchestra, under the musical direction of Julianne Merrill, are in top form during every number.
Richard Todd Adams as Miguel de Cervantes/Don Quixote is charismatic as the main character who takes his fellow prisoners on a fictional journey. His deep, rich vocals are perfect on every song. When he sings “Dulcinea,” upon meeting Aldonza and sees her as a pure, good woman, his voice has the potential to make many swoon. He also stops the show with his delivery of “The Impossible Dream.”
Janet Dacal plays Aldonza with the right amount of sullenness but yet perfectly portrays the character’s softening later in the musical. Her singing, especially her solos, “What Does He Want of Me?” and “Aldonza” are filled with power and emotion.
Carlos Lopez is a delightful and charming Sancho Panza and lends a good amount of comedic relief including during his solos “I Really Like Him” and “A Little Gossip.”
All of the ensemble members do a fantastic job, and each has time to shine in the spotlight. Morgan Anita Wood, Garfield Hammonds and Phyllis March are wonderful during “I’m Only Thinking of Him.” Deven Kolluri does a great job as the cynical Duke and Dr. Carrasco. In the prison scenes where he plays Duke, he portrays the character’s disdain for Cervantes perfectly. His vocals are strong when he joins Wood, Hammonds and March on “We’re Only Thinking of Him.”
Joshua Wayne Oxyer, Cody Mowrey, Juan Luis Espinal, Enrique Cruz DeJesus and Diego Gonzalez as the Muleteers sound fantastic together on the number “Little Bird, Little Bird.” Bruce Winant easily goes back and forth from the tough governor to the kind innkeeper, and Mowrey garners some laughs as the barber who tries to understand Quixote’s delusions.
The story of “Don Quixote” and “Man of La Mancha” is more than a tale of a man gone mad battling a windmill he thinks is a giant. It’s about seeing the good in people and the world even when strife seems to prevail. Cervantes and Don Quixote look to escape the realities of life by searching for the good in all things and people, and their attitudes are contagious. It’s obvious the cast gets this message as they seamlessly go from conveying doubtfulness over their new dungeon mate to showing hope in the impossible dream by the end. For theater lovers on a quest for a musical that has it all, the Engeman’s “Man of La Mancha” is a dream.