“The Impossible Dream” comes true in Ivoryton Playhouse’s extraordinary MAN OF LA MANCHA
By Don Church and Tony Schillaci, Critics On The Aisle
The Ivoryton Playhouse has once again proven that the team at this iconic theater in bucolic Ivoryton, CT consistently stages brilliant productions. On the opening night of MAN OF LA MANCHA on September 9th, the audience stood and cheered throughout the performance for a show that is infused with stirringly melodic music, powerful singing and acting, and a message that goodness, hope and dreams are the only way to survive in a world gone mad. A much-needed message for our troubled times.
The show itself has Connecticut roots. It was the Goodspeed Opera House which took a TV adaptation of "Don Quixote" by Dale Wasserman and turned it into MAN OF LA MANCHA with music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion in 1965.
One of the world’s most popular musicals, and winner of five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, MAN OF LA MANCHA is based on Miguel Cervantes’ masterpiece Don Quixote. It follows the imagined adventures of a mad, aging nobleman who embarrasses his respectable family by his quest for knighthood. With his faithful sidekick Sancho Panza, he duels windmills believing they are giants, and defends a serving wench, Aldonza, renaming her Dulcinea, and picturing her to be his perfect heroine. His madness knows no bounds, and his impossible dream takes control of his mind.
This is a play-within-a-play starring the internationally acclaimed bass-baritone David Pittsinger as Cervantes/Quixote. He commands the stage with his strong presence, and when he sings “The Impossible Dream” near the end of the first act, he has the audience on its feet in adulation for his magnificent voice and powerful delivery. Mr. Pittsinger describes the character of Don Quixote by boldly singing the stirring title song “Man Of La Mancha,” and then with deeply felt tenderness he woos Aldonza in the sweet and touching song “Dulcinea.”
Don Quixote’s adoring servant and companion, Sancho Panza, is played as a gentle soul by Brian Michael Hoffman with perfectly understated and well-timed humor as well as his finding the truth in dramatic scenes. And when Sancho is accused of blindly following Quixote by Aldonza, he so sweetly sings “I Really Like Him,” that the audience spontaneously responds with such thundering applause to express it really likes Mr. Hoffman’s characterization as well.
Aldonza/Dulcinea is magnificently portrayed with fiery passion by Talia Thiesfield, who puts every nerve in her body into this brilliant interpretation of a woman who has been beaten but not defeated by life. She shows her contempt for the lascivious men with whom she has been imprisoned with the sarcastic “It’s All the Same,” and when Quixote continues to woo her relentlessly she poignantly sings “What Does He Want of Me?” showing the gentle side of Aldonza. Ms. Thiesfield and Mr. Pittsinger have a strong and believable chemistry on stage which enables their characters to be curiously at odds and enraptured with each other at the same time.
David Edwards, not only directs this show with an expert hand, but he also brilliantly plays Dr. Carrasco/The Duke -- infusing each with his strong stage presence and deliciously timbered voice. Additional applause goes to Jimmy Van Treuren as the Innkeeper, Amy Buckley as Antonia, and Melissa McLean as the Housekeeper. Ms. Buckley and McLean shine in the comic scene “I’m Only Thinking of Him.”
We’d be remiss by not singling out the beautiful vocals of Matthew Krob as the Padre (“To Each His Dulcinea”) and Stephen Mir as Anselmo (“Little Bird, Little Bird”). And Brian Binion, as the Barber, imaginatively creates a scene-stealing performance when Quixote steals his shaving bowl hat, and renames it “The Golden Helmet of Mambrino.”
The additional motley crew of prisoners, guards and muleteers played by Ryan Cavanaugh, AJ Hunsucker, James Ludlum, Conor McGiffin, add greatly to this exceptionally cast production -- none of the people on stage ever show that they are ‘acting’ but believably come to life as their individual characters.
Choreographed by Todd Underwood, the show has no ‘dancing’ as such, but the movement throughout and the fight and rape scenes are expertly and fluidly depicted. The fantastic one-piece set is designed by Daniel Nischan who has created, with the simple addition of saw horses, planks and a few props, a space that converts easily from a prison cell to an inn to a country road to a manor house. Marcus Abbott’s lighting doesn’t fail to create the essence of the horror of the Inquisition, while brightly changing the light to illustrate the fantasy of Quixote’s mind as he blithely goes on his quest. The costumes by Elizabeth Cipollina are perfection. She not only captures the grubbiness of the prisoners, but the majesty of the armor of the Spanish soldiers, and with just a few touches -- the elegance of the Duena and nobility of the Duke.
With the actors almost never leaving the stage, production stage manager James Joseph Clark is really up on his game making sure that every minute element of the action flows seamlessly and that every prop is perfectly placed. Keeping track of Quixote’s lance alone must be a full-time job.
With a small orchestra of music makers -- Michael Paglione, Seth Bailey, Jaime Thorne and Cathryn Cummings, Daniel Hartington and Ron Reisner -- conductor and musical director Paul Feyer interprets Mitch Leigh’s music without missing a beat. Coupled with Tate R. Burmeister’s sound design, every lyric is heard, every spoken word clear as a bell, and the orchestra never overwhelms the players, but lovingly performs the beautiful score.
MAN OF LA MANCHA runs at the Ivoryton Playhouse through October 2nd, 2016. Performance times are Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Evening performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. There will be two additional Saturday matinees on September 24th and October 1st at 2 p.m.
Tickets, $50 for adults, $45 for seniors, $22 for students and $17 for children, are available by calling 860-767-7318 or at www.ivorytonplayhouse.org (Group rates are available by calling the box office for information.) The Playhouse is located at 103 Main Street in Ivoryton and ample $5 parking is available across the street.