“Man of La Mancha,” through May 19, Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre Company, 801-581-6961, running time: 2 hours (no intermission)
Creating a musical that can span and capture many different cultures speaks to the message of the piece.
“Too much sanity may be madness! But maddest of all to see life as it is and not as it ought to be.”
“Man of La Mancha,” the grand musical that opened on Broadway in 1965 and won five Tony Awards, has since had numerous revivals as well as many foreign productions.
In his director’s notes, Charles Morey, finishing his last season as PTC artistic director, says, “In a sense it is the ability to create and relate stories, to think metaphorically, that defines us as human beings.” Perhaps the two thoughts go hand in hand, the willing suspension of disbelief; the makings of a great evening of theater. To “lay down the melancholy burden of sanity.”
PTC begins with a fantastic set (George Maxwell's design) capturing a dungeon in the Spanish Inquisition. In many productions of the musical, the dungeon-like lighting makes for a very dark few hours. Bravo to Phil Monat, whose lighting design kept things bright and engaging in the dungeon setting.
But it’s when the orchestra kicks in that you know you’re in for a treat — before the actors even take the stage. Under the music direction of Steven Barlow, the orchestra embraces the Spanish arrangements with Spanish guitars, horns and woodwinds, and it is beautifully done.
The journey of Don Quixote rests squarely on the shoulders of the actor playing Miguel Cervantes/Don Quixote. In this case, William Michals is certainly up the challenge. The iconic role requires a bit of absurdity, a bit of bombastic class and decorum and a whole lot of vocal chops. Michals soars through a rousing “Man of La Mancha (I, Don Quixote),” and “The Impossible Dream” garnered, rightfully, a very hearty applause. (As a side note, Michals will perform his own solo show, singing his Broadway favorites, after 'La Mancha' closes. Tickets at www.arttix.org).
Maria Eberline brings plenty of fire to the role of Aldonza, a part-time prostitute and server at the inn. The vocal demands for the role are staggering, requiring big, brash belt-singing, followed by lyrical soft high notes, which Eberline pulls off. It would be nice to see a few more moments of Quixote breaking through her armor. Though Aldonza is fiercely protective of herself, it feels like we need to see that the knight-errant may actually be breaking through and causing her to take pause.
The rest of the cast, from Sancho Panza (Daniel Marcus) to the muleteers, is terrific. It was also nice to see local actor and longtime PTC performer Steven Fehr in a featured role as the barber.
“Man of La Mancha” has been a favorite of Salt Lake and PTC audiences for years. Revisiting the classic musical after more than a decade will undoubtedly have you singing about your own woeful countenance or musing about your own impossible dream.
Sensitivity rating: Physicality between the muleteers and Aldonza, mostly implied.