Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

November 17, 2015

Man of La Mancha

Opera House Players, Broad Brook, CT
through November 29, 2015
by Michael J. Moran

The triumph of hope over adversity is the timeless theme of the hit 1965 musical “Man of La Mancha.” But its play within a play structure and its dark prison setting can make it a hard act to pull off. The Opera House Players make an honorable effort.

The show’s book by Dale Wasserman is based on his non-musical 1959 television play “I, Don Quixote,” which tells the story of the fictional knight as enacted by Cervantes, author of the 1615 novel “Don Quixote,” and his fellow prisoners while they await their hearings before the Spanish Inquisition. With music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion, the score’s most familiar number is the much-recorded “The Impossible Dream,” but it also features many other memorable tunes.

Those familiar with John Baran as the host of “As Schools Match Wits” will be pleasantly surprised to find what a credible Don Quixote he makes, bringing solid acting skills and a strong singing voice to the title role. That this engagement ends a 30-year absence from the stage after training at the Hartt School and some early musical theatre credits makes his performance all the more impressive.   

But the best reason to see this “La Mancha” is the stunning account by Erica Romeo as Aldonza, the self-described “kitchen slut” whom Quixote transforms into his lady Dulcinea. Her contempt for the muleteers who regularly abuse her makes “It’s All the Same” a bone-chilling scream of outrage, and her disbelief of Quixote gives “Aldonza” a poignantly cutting edge.

Jim Metzler does fine work as the Padre, and Brad Shephard as the innkeeper brings his usual vocal heft to the “Knight of the Woeful Countenance.” Carl Calhoun sings a delightful “I Really Like Him,” but his rendition of Sancho Panza is otherwise under-characterized.

Moonyean Field’s costumes are distinctive, and musical director Steven Cirillo leads a stellar ensemble of three, with particularly atmospheric contributions from guitarist Daniel Hartington. Scene transitions are sometimes distractingly clunky.

Not a perfect “Man of La Mancha,” then, but worth seeing for at least Romeo’s outstanding performance.