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Highly Recommended! 'Man Of La Mancha'

Highly Recommended ★★★★★ (out of 5)

One of my all-time favorite musicals, “Man Of La Mancha” with a book by Dale Wasserman, Lyrics by Joe Darion and a score by Mitch Leigh, under the thoughtful direction of Nick Bowling has landed on the small stage of The Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire. Over the years, I have probably witnessed 7-10 productions on different area stages, but could not imagine that Bowling would bring a new and slightly different look to an already classic show. He did! “Man Of La Mancha” is not a typical musical and in this production, they have re-manufactured it, so there is no break (also known as intermission), thus the audience can stay entranced into the world that has been created. The time period is the 1600’s. It is the time of The Spanish Inquisition and our hero, Miguel de Cervantes ( a brilliant performance by Nathaniel Stampley) and his sidekick, Sancho (deftly handled by Richard Ruiz) are placed in a holding cell awaiting their chance to be heard.

The other prisoners ( or perhaps they are just detainees), a ruthless bunch of characters attempt to take these two men for what valuables they have by holding “court” to see what they can take. Cervantes, a playwright/actor asks that he be allowed to defend himself and asks them to hear his story. As his story unfolds, he becomes Don Quixote, a symbol of nonconformity who is ant everything that the others believe in, and of course, Sancho is his aid. While we cannot truly know what type of experience the people had while waiting to see their fate during the Inquisition, one can imagine how easy it might be to find other things to occupy the mind instead of the fate that might befall. That is why this play has enjoyed great success since the 1960’s. 

If one looks closely and deeply at the story itself, one can see that the while things were different back in the 16th Century ( Knights, horses, swords and castles), the people were just people. Mostly of lower class and like those one might find in a holding cell in any major city, undesirable. Cervantes, being a writer ( although not really questioned about his politics) would place himself in situations that would take the pressure off what he is and has, so it could be that he would have done whatever he could to win the hearts of those unsavory characters that he had to share his cell and time with.

Bowling has done some modernizations with this production. There was an I-pad and some I-phones appeared in the very beginning and the Cervantes’ script appeared to be typed in sheets instead of in a hard cover binder. This aside, the story-telling was magnificent and the ensemble may just have been the best cast I have ever seen take the stage. I loved that there was no intermission and found that sitting for 105 minutes watching this story and listening to the wonderful voices was an entertainment experience worth seeing ( perhaps, even a second time). This is a story about Chivalry, idealism, dreaming and in many ways romance. Well written, well directed and well- played!

The songs are very memorable- “The Impossible Dream”, “Man Of La Mancha”, “Dulcinea” and many more. As Aldonza, Cervantes’ Dulcinea is Danni Smith who has the strength and range to give each note of her songs just the right touch and to top it off, she is a powerful actress. Her character may be the lowest of the low, but with the love of Cervantes , we watch her transform into a lady of some nobility. She is absolutely perfection. James Harms, a Chicago favorite , who has played Cervantes many times over the years, brings a special flair to the Padre when he does “We’re Only Thinking Of Him” (along with other ensemble members Lillian Castillo and Cassie Slater). The rest of the ensemble is composed of Jonathan Butler-Duplessis, Bobby Daye, Andrew Mueller, Matt Mueller, Brandon Springman and Craig Spidle (not known for his musical talent, but one heck on an actor who makes “The Dubbing” sequence very special. 

This is not a major set production as to see it properly, the stage must have open vision for all four seating sections. Jeffrey D. Kmiec has produced a set that gives us the dungeon feeling without the cold stone. Jesse Klug’s lighting is excellent and Robert E. Gilmartin’s sound clearly allows every word to be heard in the entire theater. As always Nancy Missimi and her staff have great costumes and Sally Weiss handles the myriad of props needed. Ryan Bourque handled the Fight Choreography to perfection- very realistic.

The musical direction by Ryan T. Neslon is terrific and under the direction of Patti Garwood (on the keyboards) and the seven members of the orchestra truly make this a special production. This is one of those rare productions where seeing it a second time is worth the trip. I have heard subscribers say that the selection of plays at Marriott is not what the people want. If they don’t want shows like this and acting performances such as the ones by Stampley, Ruiz, Smith Spidle et al, they need to look at going elsewhere. This is quality personified!