REVIEW: 'La Mancha' triumphs in Mansfield

The cast of MMAS's "Man of La Mancha."

MANSFIELD - "Don Quixote" by Miguel de Cervantes may be considered the most influential work to emerge from Spanish literature, telling the story of a character who embodies the idealistic, romantic and optimistic dreamer.

Dan Wasserman, Mitch Leigh and Joe Darren captured the spirit of "Don Quixote" when they brought it to the stage as "Man of La Mancha," a musical that has been presented worldwide in more than 30 languages.

Now, MMAS has brought to its stage this story of hope and perseverance in difficult times, and a talented ensemble of actors and musicians carry on the quest with aplomb.

Directed by Dawn Crocker Tucker and featuring an authentic set design by North Attleboro's Gary Poholek, "La Mancha" transports the audience to a Spanish prison during the Inquisition and invites them to experience the telling of the Don Quixote's story along with the group of prisoners.

The cast interacts with audience right from the pre-show introduction and on and off throughout the storytelling.

As the play opens, Miguel Cervantes has been arrested by the Spanish Inquisition along with his servant. When the other prisoners put him "on trial," he asks to be allowed to defend himself by telling a story of country gentleman Alonso Quijana, who in a delusional state becomes Don Quixote, a chivalrous knight fighting for honor and nobility.

In the role of Cervantes/Quijana/Quixote, Ken Butler transforms before our eyes from the quiet poet to his alter ego Don Quixote with a change of makeup, voice and mannerism. As he sings "Man of La Mancha," Butler easily embodies the character while also giving us glimpses of Cervantes. Butler's vocal talents shine later in Act I as he envisions the very un-ladylike Aldonza as his virginal woman and sings "Dulcinea."

To counter Quixote's delusional adventures with monsters (windmills), castles (an inn) and a band of friendly moors (thieving gypsies), his very loyal sidekick Sancho is right by his side. Andrew Rhodes is innocently humorous, a little fearful and compassionate in the role. The song "I Really Like Him" explains why Sancho follows Quijana into his delusional world of knights and chivalry. Rhodes' performance lets us see Sancho as the balance between the idealism of Quixote's world and the realism of their dismal circumstances.

As Aldonza, Kristen Huberdeau is sensual and rough, yet you sense her yearning to perhaps be more like the Dulcinea that Quixote envisions. Her vocal talents reflect that yearning particularly when she sings "What Does He Want," a beautifully poignant song, and in her reprise of "Dulcinea" in Act II.

If Quixote is the idealist in the story, than his opposite is found in the Duke, portrayed by Brendon Auld. Auld is dark as the pessimistic Duke who chides Cervantes for being a poet and is the most reluctant of all the prisoners to participate in the storytelling.

The family (niece Antonia, the family housekeeper and the local padre) form a lovely trio of characters. With very fine performances by Ashley Wallace as Antonia, Stephen Lee as the padre, and Shannon Manley as the housekeeper, particularly as they sing "I'm Only Thinking of Him." Lee stands out as the padre as he, like Sancho, tries to come to terms with Quijana's delusions.

Amid all this are the characters Quixote encounters at the Inn. In addition to Aldonza, the kitchen wench, there are the innkeeper/prison governor, the muleteers, the barber, and the innkeeper's shrewish wife. They shine as an ensemble in songs like "Golden Helmet of Mambrino" and bring good harmonies to "Little Bird, Little Bird" in Act I and "Knight of the Woeful Countenance."

Unfortunately, all members of the large can't be singled out, but Bill Roberts as governor/innkeeper stands out as the steady arbiter between Cervantes and the other prisoners. Andrea Segal is aptly shrewish as the innkeeper's wife, Michael Gebrayel is handsome and crude as the toughest muleteer Pedro, and Doug McDougal is comical as the barber.

Act II opens with what could be considered the signature song of hope, perseverance and inspiration, "The Impossible Dream." Butler is inspirational in singing it, conveying the need for every knight to follow his quest.

However, it is not until we come to the end of both stories that the power of "Impossible Dream" is fully realized as Cervantes is brought to the Inquisition and the cast of prisoners reprises the song. It will bring goosebumps and perhaps a few tears.

With such a powerful and inspirational production, it is not surprising that all 13 performances of "Man of La Mancha" are sold out.

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