How refreshing to find a smart new way to approach MAN OF LA MANCHA. The classic musical by Dale Wasserman, Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion has been streamlined, simplified and tightened in director Antonio Ocampo-Guzman’s stirring new production for New Repertory Theatre. Please pardon me for saying I’ve found revivals of the musical rather stodgy in recent years but I’m delighted to find that this MAN (playing through Dec. 24th) works beautifully in New Rep’s mid-size, perfect-size space. (You can see and hear in every seat in the house.)
Ocampo-Guzman may call up allusions to Spain under Franco but the musical set during the Spanish Inquisition resonates right now with its “enemies of the state” mentality—and its sardonic take on the rule of law. Don Quixote’s “Facts are the enemy of truth” will have you thinking of the extreme right wing’s “alternate facts,” not to mention the travesties which now pass for truth. For example, the director silently indicts the Catholic Church for its collusion with torture and murder by having nuns accompany the police whenever a prisoner is summoned before the auto-da-fe.
Cast members play instruments (solving the problem of where to hide an orchestra), making this MAN much more intimate. Music director David Reiffel and choreographer Judith Chaffee move the performers around seamlessly, making the story much more cohesive. I’ve seen many a company knock themselves out with elaborate set pieces in an effort to make the “mirror” scene work (when the Knight is forced to see “reality”) when it turns out, less is more…and makes more sense.
And how brilliant is it to forego a chubby dolt of a Sancho Panza in favor of a clever secretary for Cervantes, who then becomes the compadre of Don Quixote. How lovely it is to see the devotion and friendship of the two. Kudos to Maurice Emmanual Parent as the foolish but noble Don and Michael Levesque as his thoughtful companion. When Levesque sings “I Like Him,” it’s touching and eminently believable. (And turning “A Little Gossip” a little vaudeville does the trick.)
How thrilling it is to go “operatic” with the musical: Sometimes it doesn’t pay to mix “regular” (pop) voices with full out operatic singing but it truly heightens the drama in this production. Ute Gfrerer is a stunning Dulcinea and Stefan Barner makes the Psalm aria downright chilling. New Rep has some of Boston’s best leading actors in secondary roles and that pays off, too. Shonna Cirone and Todd Yard are splendid as Inn Keepers; Paul James Lang is first rate as the Barber and Davron Monroe broods and frightens as the “Duke.”
I left the theater heartened that our current “unrightable wrongs” perhaps may be righted… Maybe the world can “be better for this.” Thanks, New Rep, for the engaging uplift.