Saturday, October 12, 2002

Man of La Mancha (Jewish Community Center)

'MAN OF LA MANCHA' gets a dream production at Halle

In the dark days of the Spanish Inquisition, the poet Cervantes created Don Quixote, his alter ego, an errant-knight who dares “To Dream the Impossible Dream.” Through the writing device of a play-within-a-play we watch as Quixote, aided by his sidekick, Sancho, and his "lady" Dulcinea, go forth on a quest “to fight the unbeatable foe, to reach the unreachable star,” and to see life, not as it is, but as it ought to be. During the play when questioned about his absurd valor Quixote replies, "I hope to add some measure of grace to the world." It is this premise that was used as the lynchpin by the musical’s script writer Dale Wasserman, musical writer Mitch Leigh and lyricist Joe Darion as the basis for the amazing musical MAN OF LA MANCHA.

The musical is a challenging task for any theatre to undertake. The music is difficult to play and sing, the cast is large, a strong men’s chorus is a necessity, the lead male must be outstanding, and fine technical features are needed to enhance the cast. The Halle Theatre production, under the masterful directing hand of Fred Sternfeld, the musical direction of Larry Hartzell, and the choreography by Martin Cespedes, is outstanding! Keith Nagy’s lighting and scenic designs and Alison Hernan’s costumes amplify the happenings.

The intimacy of the Halle Theatre aids the production. As in its original New York staging at the now-gone ANTA Theatre, the production is “right in your face.” It makes the happenings intimate and involving.

The Halle cast is generally strong. Tom Fulton leaves nothing to be desired in his performance as Cervantes/Don Quixote. His voice is powerful, his stage presence striking, his acting skills character-focused. David Robeano is delightful as Sancho, but his constant cuteness becomes wearing after a while. Tracee Patterson, who sings adequately well, fails to make a real harlot out of Eldonza at the start of the production, thus robbing the audience of the true depth of her transformation to the pure Dulcinea pictured by Don Quixote, a center theme of the story. R. Scott Posey displays an impressive singing range as The Padre. Scott Spence as the Barber and Kevin Joseph Kelly as the Governor/Innkeeper are also strong. The men’s chorus is vocally outstanding, as was the orchestra.

Capsule judgement: MAN OF LAMANCHA is a well-thought out, impressive production. This, along with the stagings of PARADE at Beck Center and Cassidy, give further evidence that the musical theatre is alive and very well in Greater Cleveland’s local venues.

Notwithstanding the excellence of this production one must ask, as the program notes do, “So what’s a theater with a mission of producing plays on Jewish themes doing opening its season with MAN OF LAMANCHA?” In spite of dramaturg Faye Sholiton’s well-written and impassioned attempt to explain, the question is not answered. Halle Theatre plays a role very different from other local theatres. It is subsidized by and is an important part of the Jewish community. It has an obligation to do what other local theatres do not do...present exclusively Jewish-themed plays. When they stray from that, they betray the mission of the theatre.