Review by Danny Gaisin
The Wasserman/Leigh/Darion collaboration takes the story of Cervantes and the end 15th century Inquisition and puts all the drama into music. The theme song and such arias as “Little bird, little Bird”;” Dulcinea” and the touching “A little gossip” all have become standards even out of context. An appreciative director; a professional orchestra and a talented cast and the result can’t be anything BUT another Stratford hit.
Photo courtesy of Michael Cooper
Director Robert McQueen does not just follow the established traditions of this now half-century old musical drama. There is no need for his hero’s sword to be mangled after his tilt; Sancho Panza can be portrayed by a man of girth, and some of the more humorous moments can be overstated without becoming a caricature. Even the critical rape scene is ingenious in its creativity rather than being the usual prurient visual representation. The overall impact is one of directorial artistry, and an audience rapt and utterly still – until applauding.
Repertory never ceases to amaze this writer. For thespians to proffer a zany comedic depiction on an afternoon, then three hours later; 180o gyration to star in a melodramatic work boggles my mind; I’m still a critic even if attending an event purely for entertainment!
The plot deals with the writer & his servant being incarcerated within a general penal situation and among all manner of miscreants. To survive, he presents an impromptu improvisation of his book utilizing all of the other inmates. His ability to seduce them into the roles he’s created for each one illustrates the magic of the thespian psyche.
The title role is played by Tom Rooney who made us giggle a few hours earlier as ‘Zangler’. In this persona, or rather, given the premise- these personae, he is a powerhouse. Each deriving personality is credibly portrayed, more seriously than for comic relief. His epitomic ‘lady’ is superbly personified by Robin Hutton made up & costumed to epitomize the slutiest of her ilk yet with an innate sense of herself. Her Aquarius ‘White Christmas’ made our Top Ten a few years back. The buttressing both physical and theatrical that Don Quixote receives from Steve Ross as ‘Panza’ is almost tangible. His “A little Gossip” and the poignant ’I like him’ glean heartfelt ovation. Other outstanding support characters are Stephen Patterson’s barber; and the inmate Pedro played by the dramatic voice and charismatic presence of Cory O’Brien. There is also the guitar-playing prisoner (Kevin Rammesar) whose acoustic instrument provokes much of the action.
The set is sufficiently bleak and representatively ambient of what a medieval gaol must have been like. Detailed costumes also contribute to both mood and individuality. The lighting, special effects and especially the 17-piece orchestra under Franklin Brasz are all effective.
The ‘Dream’ may be impossible, but the explication of it resounds true.
MAN of La MANCHA is at the Avon.