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Sunday, May 4, 2008

Review- Man of La Mancha (Gallery Players)

The Fab Marquee review by Antonio Miniño.

I remember how I fought my way out of reading Cervantes’ Don Quixote back in the school days, a long long time ago. But then curiosity and the love for adventure and books made me creep into the pages of Don Quixote, and I soon found myself wanting to fight a windmill and be dubbed Don Antonio.

Robert Anthony Jones as Sancho & Jan-Peter Pedros as Don Quixote
photo credit: Jennifer Maufrais

The Gallery Players, an institution that has been pumping out work since 1967, earning their reputation as “New York’s best Kept Secret” brings us their production of Man of La Mancha, a musical with a book by Dale Wasserman, lyrics by Joe Darion and music by Mitch Leigh. It is adapted from Wasserman’s non-musical 1959 teleplay I, Don Quixote, which was inspired by Miguel de Cervantes’s seventeenth century masterpiece Don Quixote. It tells the story of the knight, Don Quixote, as a play within a play, performed by Cervantes and his fellow prisoners as he awaits a hearing with the Spanish Inquisition. The original 1965 Broadway production was a total hit! It ran for 2,329 performances and won five Tony Awards.

Gallery Players production of Man of La Mancha is one of the most spot on Off-Off Broadway revivals I have encountered. I’m sure to be contradicted by musical theatre fans that indulge on crisp voices, but I’ll exchange vocals for good acting any day. A magnificent ensemble of 22 performers grace the Spanish prison, as Cervantes (Jan Peter Pedross) performs his play that serves as his defense before a mock trial that the prisoners have started in order for him to keep his possessions. Once Cervantes takes out his make up kit and armor and transforms himself as Alonso Quijana, he is soon in need of the prisoners to join him as actors in the piece. Quijana seems to be under the impression that he is Don Quixote and fears that longtime enemy The Enchanter wants a piece of him, and his Manservant, or should I say “squire” Sancho Panza (Robert Anthony Jones). He fights a windmill thinking it’s a giant monster, and thinks he was defeated because he’s not an actual Knight. So he walks into an Inn that in his illustrious fantastical mind resembles a Castle, and needs the Innkeeper (Justin Herfel) to dub him as a Knight. Every Knight needs a lady, right? His eyes grow weary as he meets Aldonza (Jennifer McCabe), who for him is Dulcinea the Lady of his heart, when Aldonza is in fact the bedfellow of many. As the story unfolds, prisoners are being taken away, and the rest are in thirst of hearing how the story of Don Quixote concludes.

All is a bitter operatic end, as the fantasy of Don Quixote is killed and Quijana slowly wimples away, but Aldonza soon reminds him of “The Impossible Dream” and how he has transformed her into his Dulcinea.

Jan-Peter Pedross portrays a tender and dreamy-eyed Cervantes, his conviction and boldness towards the role embarks the audience on a powerful journey. The humorous Robert Anthony Jones enraptures the audience with great wit as Sancho Panza.

Jennifer McCabe as Aldonza & Cast
photo credit: Jennifer Maufrais

We are used to being swept away when Don Quixote sings “The Impossible Dream”, the song has been recorded over and over and over again. Well, in Gallery Players’ Man of La Mancha, when McCabe sings “Aldonza” the audience shivers, cries, kicks and screams with her all through the journey of the song. I’d like to say I saw some audience members teary eyed, but it might have just been me. The beautiful Jennifer McCabe enraptures the audience with her no nonsense take on Aldonza, she embodied the complexity of the character with subtlety and sad anger.

There is not a weak link in this cast; the entire ensemble brings a fresh take to the show. Director Tom Wotjunick keeps almost the entire ensemble on stage at all times. I appreciated how everyone knew how to listen, and created tasks for themselves without drawing attention away from what was going on.

Wotjunick clearly knows how to highlight the emotional arc of the characters, and the parallels that exist between them. He didn’t create a world of fantasy with big costumes and set changes, but trusted the actors and the audiences hunger to use their imagination, using things from Cervantes trunk, or around the prison. The staging was clean and balanced at all times. Kudos go to fight choreographer Ryan Kasprzak who deals with the fights in a beautiful way, without making them seem like modern dance or safety poses.

The set design by Martin Andrew utilizes the space in a smart way, creating levels and entryways, easily transformed into Quixote’s different landscapes with the use of furnishings and first rate lighting design by Tony Galaska, and sound design by Kristyn R. Smith. Costume Designer David Withrow never seizes to amaze me; the detailing that characterizes his work was of course present in all the garments.

You have one week left to “run where the brave dare not go”, and that is a great Off-Off Broadway production of Man of La Mancha, presented by Gallery Players.
Gallery Players presents
Man of La Mancha
April 26-May 18, 2008 (Thu-Fri @8pm; Sat @2pm & 8pm; Sun @3pm)
Gallery Players

Tickets: $18.00 for adults, $14 for Senior Citizens and children 12 and under. Tickets can be purchased online at or by calling Theatermania at (212) 352-3101.

Gallery Players | 199 14th St (btwn 4th and 5th Aves) | Brooklyn.

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