Man of La Mancha
Thalian Hall main stage
9/9-11, 8 p.m.; Sun. matinees, 3 p.m. Tickets $23-$25 • www.thalianhall.org
The real question every reviewer must ask themselves: “Is it worth the ticket price?” Without question Opera House Theater Company’s production of “Man of La Mancha” is. From the moment the overture starts and the chandelier rises, there is no doubt that something incredible is about to happen.
The musical adaptation of Cervantes’ magnum opus, “Don Quixote,” few works of literature have transcended cultures and times like the story of the man who dreamed of chivalry, and set out with his friend to find adventure and fulfillment late in life. In 1965 the musical adaptation opened on Broadway and introduced the world to the great standard, “The Impossible Dream.” We have been dreaming with the errant knight ever since.
Robin Dale Robertson brings Don Quixote to life in this production, with Tony Rivenbark as Sancho Panza, the epitome of the loyal side kick. After their first disastrous altercation with a windmill or monster (depending upon if you see the story through Sancho’s eyes or Quixote’s), they arrive at an inn (or castle) where we, the audience, meet some of Wilmington’s finest talent. The inn keeper (Eric Paisley) sees Quixote as well-meaning, harmless and worthy of humoring. The not-so-well intentioned guests of the inn, the Muleteers (Jason Aycock, Tre Cotton, Dylan Fowler, John Markas, Chris Rickert), however, do not share his views. They think nothing of fighting five against one or of tormenting Aldonza (Heather Setzler), the kitchen wench. Quixote recognizes Dulcinea, his epitome of womanhood, in Aldonza. He pledges his sword and his life to her service.
Meanwhile back at his house, Quixote’s niece, Antonia (Kendra Goehring-Garrett), the housekeeper (Michelle Reiff), Antoina’s fiancé, Dr. Sanson Carrasco (Dan Morris), and the local priest (Bob Workmon) have hatched a plan to bring Quixote home and back to his responsibilities. Battles for Quixote’s mind, body and possessions ensue.
The script is incredibly moving and powerful. The cast rides the waves of emotion beautifully: humor, despondency, redemption, fear, and hope. My companion was so moved she was in tears half way through the second act. To regular theater patrons, one glance at the program and this would come as no surprise. I for one have loved Dan Morris’ work for over 15 years. His ease and natural comfort onstage never ceases to amaze.
Rivenbark as Sancho is a particular gem in this show. One does not generally think of Thalian Halll’s executive director, Tony Rivenbark, as a sidekick. His many lead and cameo roles come to mind as the obvious vehicle for his alpha energy. But as the simple good-hearted helpful number two, he is delightful, funny and shines in a new way.
Setzler’s portrayal of the abused and battered Aldonza is stunning. She makes this painful but gorgoeus transformation believable and loveable. Roberton’s Quixote is endearing and vulnerable. It is very easy to see ourselves in his creation of Quixote. He plays and sings in a way reminiscent of Peter O’Toole from the famous movie. His strength is acting, and though he has a strong voice, the standout voices are without question Bob Workmon, Michelle Reiff and Kendra Goehring-Garett. Wow! The trio gave me goosebumps.
Though the message of the show is universal there are parts that might not be appropriate for very young children. The gang rape of Aldonza in the second act, though stylized, might require some explanation for the young. There are parts that are very dark and at times, scary. It is an adult show, dealing with complex and haunting themes—the very basis of human relationships and responsibilities.
Scenic Asylum deserves recognition for constructing a raked stage—one that elevates on an angle–the main stage of Thalian Hall. It must have been quite an undertaking to get the stage, the trap door, the multiple stair cases and the additional levels up there. It is a steep rake and the cast deserves a lot of credit for not falling off!
The orchestra pit was annexed for the raked stage, but as Opera House Theatre Company’s director Lou Criscuolo quickly pointed out during his curtain speech, there was still a live band. They simply were moved to the right wing extension “They are just behind that curtain!” Criscuolo said, pointing off stage right. “I don’t want you to think we had canned music!” I share his concern and appreciation for this difference that live music makes. Lorene Walsh’s 10-piece orchestra was the icing on the cake—they made an already great show even better.