Dr. Carrasco. Padre, we are modern men. We face facts.
Housekeeper. The innocent must pay for the sins of the guilty.
—Act I, Don Quixote
From the original novel by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra through the music of Telemann and Richard Strauss, the ballet of Balanchine to the pen of Graham Greene as well as numerous films, the timeless tale of madness, torture and devotion continues to maintain its appeal to anyone oppressed. The musical reincarnation, Man of La Mancha, has captured the wit and wisdom of its predecessors and added copious amounts of song and dance to the delight of “popular” audiences since its Off-Broadway première in 1965. Lucky are those who have tickets for Brampton’s Arts Culture and Theatre Production’s look at the well-loved classic.
Director Scott Lale has assembled an acting-rich, vocally-lite cast most of whom are required to remain on stage for the entire show. Happily, his savvy blocking and deft lighting plot (with only a couple of opening night “sudden transitions” that will soon fade away) yield swift and smooth scene changes and visual variety as the play-within-the-play unfolds.
The charming Heritage Theatre has the advantage of audience intimacy but also the many challenges of a “not-originally-meant-for-this-purpose” venue. From the rear, the lighting-cue chatter distracts from the action. On stage, musical director Ryan deSouza and his nearly backstage band are forced to follow more than lead the cast through the tuneful score. He does an admirable job with a clear and decisive baton hand that only needs to let the left shape and colour to harvest further texture, tone and warmth from the ensemble—kudos to Jose Santis’ guitar and one more trip to the woodshed for the brass.
It is but to wonder why any sound reinforcement is utilized in this petit salle. The body mics combined with Alex Amini’s marvellous eye for fabric, armour and head dressings are too often heard as well as seen (marring Karen Coughlin’s engaging portrait of Aldonza). Overhead, every appearance by the Captain of the Guard (Danny Harvey) and his execution aide (Ryan Gauvin) is heralded by the Gatling gun force of loosing the chain. Worse, the full-cry ensemble tests the ear drum, electronically exacerbates any pitch deficiencies while, necessarily paling in comparison to the pre-recorded Gregorian chants that are a marvel of balance and restraint.
As Don Quixote, Mark Llewellyn brings his own fine madness to the role, making us all believers in giants, castles and errant knights. His constant companion, Sancho (D. Kirk Teeple) bubbles along amiably as he leads the Python-like horses (only missing the coconut hooves!) through the adventure but lacks pitch-surety when in song.
It falls to Coughlin and Phil Cook as Padre to raise the bar vocally. The former has a flexible, centred tone heard to its best advantage in “Aldonza.” The latter’s Benediction was a showstopper; his “To Each his Dulcinea” was introspectively thoughtful with only the last few measures slipping below standard. Special mention also goes to Robert Woodcock, whose Barber’s song was a great pleasure.
Lale wisely left most of the solos as “stand and deliver,” which were effectively and hilariously balanced by Daniel Levinson’s Stooges-staged fight scene and dance of 1,000 armourments during the gypsy sequence.
Windmills away! All innocents are encouraged to partake of the quest for “doing the right thing” and savour an “Impossible Dream” of your own. JWR