Man of La Mancha

Written by Dale Wasserman
Music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion
Directed and choreographed by Ted Forlow
Musical direction by John Karr
Performed by David Ludwig, Eddie Glen, Rebecca Poff
Huron Country Playhouse, Grand Bend
August 17 to September 4, 2004
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

The Dream is not impossible – La Mancha is excellent!

Huron Country Playhouse has saved the best for last. Their final show of the season, “Man of La Mancha”, is their finest offering this year – in fact, the opening night performance was flawless – an inspired script with excellent singing and acting, building to a breathtaking finale.

“Man of La Mancha” is a play within a play. It starts with the story of Miguel de Cervantes, a poet of note in the 16th century, quite possibly Spain’s Shakespeare. Cervantes and his loyal servant are thrown into prison and charged to appear before the Inquisition. But their fellow prisoners want to put them through their own so-called court first, in order to rob them of their possessions. To distract the prisoners, Cervantes offers to put on a play for them. So he tells the story of Alonso Quijana, an elderly landowner who, in his old age, is suffering dementia. He believes he is a knight is shining armour named Don Quixote, but in fact, that armour is rusty and mismatched.

The deluded Don Quixote and his sidekick Sancho, played by Cervantes’ faithful servant, set forth to right all wrongs. And while the man is obviously crazy, his optimism is quite charming and their adventures provide the play’s comedy. The elderly Quixote has trouble with his vision – he thinks he’s attacking the enemy when he’s really jousting at windmills. A barber’s shaving bowl becomes a much-coveted golden helmet. And when he comes across Aldonza, the rough and weary local prostitute, he views her as his beloved, virginal, fair maiden. When Aldonza throws her dirty dishrag at Sancho, Don Quixote sees it as a “gossamer” token of her affection.

While the entire cast is good, Rebecca Poff as Aldonza is outstanding. Many will remember Poff as Marion the Librarian in “The Music Man” at HCP three years ago, and while she was a very good Marion, the part of Aldonza suits her perfectly. Making the transition back and forth between her belting Broadway voice and her beautiful operatic voice, she lives the part and tells the story with her songs. Most notable is the feeling she pours into the song “Aldonza” in the second act.

David Ludwig handles the demanding role of Cervantes, Don Quixote and Alonso Quijana very well. He is credible as the young Cervantes, afraid of prison, and also very believable as the aging, fearless Quixote. His rendition of “The Impossible Dream” is the show-stopper it is intended to be, and he handles the challenge of singing such a well-known song quite capably.

Eddie Glenn as Sancho is endearing and provides some of the laughs. Glenn is remembered as the young soldier in “The War Show” at HCP, as well as playing the lead in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” at the Grand. Glenn is delightful in his presentation of the song “I Really Like Him”.

Director Ted Forlow’s expertise shows by getting this cast of 20 to fit together perfectly for this excellent show. Forlow directed the Broadway touring production of “Man of La Mancha” over 30 years ago, and has 15 other Broadway shows to his credit.

John Karr provides excellent music direction as usual. His 10-piece orchestra gives a powerful sound worthy of the stirring score.

If your only familiarity with “Man of La Mancha” is the slow and weak 1972 movie, don’t let that deter you from seeing this production. The HCP show is far superior. It’s one of those few shows where the audience feels drained and exhausted at the end, because the tremendous effort put forth by the cast is palpable.

Much can be learned from “Man of La Mancha”. The story points out that Don Quixote is not “burdened by sanity”. In fact, in this world, maybe we should all be a little bit crazy.

“Man of La Mancha” continues with eight shows a week until Saturday, September 4. Tickets are available at the Huron Country Playhouse box office at (519) 238-6000 or Drayton Entertainment at 1-888-449-4463.


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