Man of La Mancha, currently playing at the LongCenter for the Performing Arts is an uplifting, timeless tale of struggle, courage, and humanity. Written by Dale Wasserman, the original Broadway production won 5 Tony awards including best actor, best musical, and best score. Over the years it has been revived 4 times on Broadway.
The touring company production at the LongCenter is professional and oh so touching. Set in the time of the Spanish Inquisition, the play begins when Miguel de Cervantes (Don Quixote), a tax-collector/aspiring writer of plays, and his assistant (Sancho) are thrown in prison. There Cervantes finds himself at the mercy of his fellow prisoners, who attempt to confiscate his few possessions, He attempts to save the manuscript of a play he has written by begging for the opportunity to plead his case. He then enlists the prisoners as actors in the telling of his “story.”
The prison is transformed into an inn and at this point the story within the story takes over and the audience is caught up in this tale of an aging knight named Don Quixote who struggles to earn his title of Knight and his faithful sidekick named Sancho.
Although one expects a professional performance, several actors seemed to shine especially. Jack Curenton brings a credible touch to the role of the aging Quixote. His nuanced performance captures the foolishness of the man without making him a fool. Jessica Norland also had shining moments as Aldonza, Don Quixote’s Dulcinea. Chuck Hodges’s rich voice had me searching for my program to see who he was.
The set was impressive. The massive-appearing drop-down stairway, the sense of subterranean space under the “grate” in the ceiling, the lower-level prison below stage level, and later the rapid transformation into the “death-bed” scene left no question that this was a professional production.
I did find the mirror scene compelling but I could only see portions of it; the light bouncing off the silver helmet were almost blinding. Whether that was an intentional effect or not, I cannot say, but it felt like a shot in the eye with a laser.
While the story is strong, I suspect that it is the soaring music that has made this show a timeless treasure for the many years since it first opened on Broadway. The music did indeed soar, and I credit the musicians for their role in that and their performance on opening night.
As I was leaving the theatre I overheard one woman comment, “I have heard that music played before but I had not heard it before with the words sung.” For me that is hard to imagine, but it was delightful to overhear members of a “younger generation” discover and appreciate something I have loved for a long time. As I left the theatre, I felt sad that this production would be gone from our city before Austin residents will know what they have missed.