By Jordan Wright (Photo/Scott Suchman)
Set Designer Allen Moyer’s two-story iron grid with drop down catwalk provides the stark background for Director Alan Paul’s revival of “Man of La Mancha” now playing at Shakespeare Theatre’s glamorous Sidney Harman Hall.
Set in a bleak Spanish prison during the time of the Inquisition, the beloved musical is loosely based on Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s 17th century neo-biography, “The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha” — a man known for tilting at windmills and spinning a tale or two, precisely what he must do to stay alive in this den of iniquity where prisoners become the masters of the Inquisition.
While awaiting their sentences, Quixote’s fellow prisoners charge him with being an idealist and bad poet in their own mock trial. In order to spare his life and keep his only manuscript of a play he has written, he cuts a deal with them. He will present his defense in the form of a charade, using his cellmates as the characters in an epic adventure of knights, wizards, warlocks and maidens.
And in the way of that great Arabian storyteller, Scheherazade, who saved her own life with 1001 tales, he devises a play in which he is an old man on an indefinable. Including his fellow prisoners empowers the lowly to dream beyond their dismal lives and achieve a modicum of dignity. Ever the optimist, Quixote insists, “Too much sanity may be madness.”
Accompanied by his slightly daft but ever-faithful squire Sancho Panza (Nehal Joshi), a veritable font of proverbs, Quixote (Anthony Warlow) soon engages the motley group in his life-affirming chimera. The hapless sidekick, with his charmingly goofy brand of loyalty, provides much of the show’s comic relief.
Through his narrative, Quixote casts the rough-hewn Aldonza (played by the lovely and dulcet-voiced Amber Iman) as his fair maiden — saying, “A knight without a lady is like a body without a soul,” — and insists on calling her Dulcinea, a name he invents to lend a softer side to her low birth.
Iman, Warlow, Joshi, Martin Sola as the Padre and Robert Mammana as the Duke and Dr. Carrasco are all spectacular, and Iman and Warlow bring down the house with their solos. Combine that with the beautiful partnership between lighting designer Robert Wierzel, who skillfully evokes the paintings of Goya and other Spanish masters of the period; costume designer Ann Hould-Ward, who plays on that dynamic; and choreographer Marcos Santana, who amps up the scenes with slapstick, sword fights and bench dancing.
Composer Mitch Leigh and lyricist Joe Darion’s sweeping orchestration and 20 memorable songs will thrill many. Iconic numbers like “The Impossible Dream,” “Dulcinea” and opening number “Man of La Mancha” are brought to life by an 11-member orchestra under the deft direction of George Fulginiti-Shakar.
This is a must-see production of a must-see musical.
Through April 26 at the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall at 610 F St. N.W., Washington, D.C. For tickets and information contact the box office at 202-547-1122 or visit www.shakespearetheatre.org.