Man of La Mancha
Review by Tony Peters
This musical based on Miguel de Cervantes’ classic 17th-century novel, with a book by Dale Wasserman, music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion, has gone down in Broadway history since its opening in 1965. That production ran for over 2,300 performances and bagged five Tony Awards, including Best Musical. A level of success that gave producers confidence to mount four revivals of the show on Broadway over the years.
But that was then and this is now. The show has been less enduring in the UK where the one West End run in 1968 ran for just 253 performances, making it one of those shows that didn’t find common ground between US and UK audiences. And sad to say, despite the best efforts of Kelsey Grammer in the lead role, this leaden and often down right confusing revival at the London Coliseum is unlikely to give the show new impetus on this side of the pond.
Miguel de Cervantes (Grammer) and his manservant (the always excellent Peter Polly Carpou) are arrested and thrown into prison to await trial for crimes against the state. In the original, as in the novel, the accusers are the Spanish Inquisition. But in director Lonny Price’s production the captors are an unnamed force and the period not specified.
Photo Credit Manuel Harlan
Cervantes brings with him a trunk of belongings, which the prisoners, under the leadership of the self-styled Governor (Nicholas Lyndhurst), want to plunder. Cervantes — accused of being an idealist and a bad poet — is then subjected to a mock trial and if found guilty, the contents of the trunk become the spoils of the inmates. Cervantes pleads to be allowed to mount his defence in the form of a play.
And so we’re off. Cervantes transforms himself into Alonso Quijana, who in turn plays the part of knight-errant Don Quixote who has been sent mad by the demise of chivalry and injustice. His manservant takes on the role of Sancho Panza and other prisoners are given various roles to play.
Now, the novel Don Quixote is complex and multi-layered. And so, a complex novel leads to a complex stage production that for me really didn’t work in a cohesive way. Many people playing many parts and the switches between the now and the imagined only work sporadically and at worst become a bit of a jumbled mess, while lengthy passages of dialogue slow the pace and the score often fails to engage.
Grammar comes though with aplomb, however, and is the very epitome of faded grandeur. And there’s good support from Lyndhurst, Polycarpou, and Cassidy Janson as the feisty subject of Quixote’s affections. It’s rather a case of a good cast in search of a better show.
Man of La Mancha has one of the all-time great eleven o’clock numbers though in the stirring The Impossible Dream and when this is reprised by the whole company at the finale the hairs on the back of my neck stood up but by then it was all too late.