Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Dale Wasserman's touching, moving, and slightly comical book incorporates Cervantes as the main character who is imprisoned during the Spanish Inquisition. While he is waiting to be tried, he must defend his prized manuscript in a mock trial conducted by his fellow prisoners, which takes place in the dungeon where they are all being held. Cervantes woos the inmates by telling the story of Don Quixote, the aging "mad" knight who travels with his squire Sancho and believes he has found the woman of his dreams, Dulcinea, in the kitchen wench Aldonza.
The musical features a lush, melodic score with music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion that includes many well-composed and memorable numbers and which sounds terrific at ABT under James May's taut music direction and conducting of the small but superb orchestra. Wasserman's book, which is a bit convoluted, though it features a touching message of hope and understanding, incorporates a "play within a play" device that has Cervantes taking on the role of Quixote and all of the prisoners playing parts in his play.
Director Joseph Martinez sticks fairly close to the style of many other productions of this show I've seen without adding any unnecessary touches that would get in the way of the story, and his cast throw themselves into the performance of these iconic, beloved characters. James Rio's Cervantes is full of warmth, care and understanding for his fellow inmates. While Rio evokes a beautiful sense of grace, humanity and elegance and a voice that is powerful, clear and full of passion, I wish there were a little more distinction between his Cervantes and Quixote and that he imbued Quixote with a touch more madness underneath the sweet exterior. Jessica Medoff is very good as Aldonza. She creates a woman who is full of passion and fire. Aldonza may be rough and gritty, but with Medoff's excellent portrayal, we see that once she witnesses the compassion and care that Quixote has for her, it stirs emotions and empathy within this almost beaten down woman.
ABT favorite Andy Meyers is charming and full of life as the fun-loving devoted servant who will do anything for Cervantes. Meyers' lilting voice delivers some lovely melodies and his performance is truly an audience favorite. In smaller parts, the trio of Taylor Caprara, Matthew Ruff and Meggie Siegrist add some nice moments of comic and pathos to "I'm Only Thinking of Him" and Ruff's smooth, polished voice shines on "To Each His Dulcinea." Michael O'Brien brings an appropriate steely sense of authority to the Duke and Dr. Carrasco and, as the upbeat Innkeeper, Geoff Belliston's deep and soulful voice delivers a joyful "Knight of the Woeful Countenance."
Martinez's direction is fluid and he evokes good performances from his large cast and also ensures the play within the play aspect is never lost. I do wish the intermission, which wasn't present in the original Broadway production, could have been eliminated here as well, so the momentum wouldn't be momentarily stopped. The excellent set design by Kara Thomson features stone turrets and an elevated staircase, where the prisoners enter and leave the dungeon on their way to the inquisition, that hovers over the stage and serves as a frequent reminder of the unhappy ending that awaits them all. Lottie Dixon's costumes are full of deep beiges and pops of earth tones which complement the colors of Thomson's set and feature multiple fabrics and styles and rich details. William Kirkham's lighting is stunning and elicits beautiful stage images with shadows and depth. The sound design from Connor Adams is crisp and clear and also features some appropriately moody effects. This isn't a dance heavy show and Kurtis W. Overby's effective and choreography fortunately doesn't unnecessarily overpower any of the many musical moments and flows organically out of the scenes.
Arizona Broadway Theatre continues to present beautiful productions of classic musicals. Their Man of La Mancha features a talented cast and effective direction and creative elements. While the musical is a slightly funny adventure tale, it also has at its core a deep message about hope and compassion. It may be fifty years old, and Cervantes' novel was written five hundred years ago, but those simple messages are ones that still resonate today and come through beautifully in ABT's lovely production.
Man of La Mancha runs through November 11th, 2017, at Arizona Broadway Theatre, 7701 West Paradise Lane in Peoria AZ. Tickets can be ordered at www.azbroadway.org or by calling 623 776-8400.
Book by Dale Wasserman