Man of La Mancha: New Rep Theater

Though I go to the theater often, I’ve not reviewed any theatrical productions on this site,  but a couple weeks ago I saw the New Rep’s production of Man of La Mancha, and really want to laud the production here.  Man of La Mancha was the first musical I remember seeing performed live.  It was a production at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, VA. I don’t remember very much about that performance except that it was completely enthralling. The idealistic young man I was found himself identifying in with the madman trying to change the world. I was also enamored with the idea that a writer can be a force for good in the world, simply by inspiring others.

I’ve been obsessed with the musical ever since. I was so fascinated by the story that I read the original novel by Cervantes.  But it’s really the musical I’m obsessed with. I’ve seen several productions, including the film adaptation, and I own the cast recordings of most productions that I haven’t seen.  Each version has it’s merits, but the New Rep’s production is really something special. Everything about this production works, from the effective use of the performance space and the integration of the musicians into the ensemble, to the lighting and set design.

Michael Levesque as the Secretary/Sancho Panza

Nonetheless, it was the cast that left the biggest impression on me. This is a genuine ensemble production, with a talented, cohesive cast. There are standouts, of course. As expected, the leads are strongly cast. Maurice Emmanuel Parent is charismatic and convincing as Cervantes/Alonso/Don Quixote, and Ute Gfrerer has a remarkably powerful, expressive voice as Aldonsa/Dulcinea. Nile Hawver, who plays guitar and the prisoner who takes on the role of the menacing Pedro in the play within the play, was also a standout for me. But it was Michael Levesque as Sancho who completely reinterpreted his character.

Don Quixote and Sancho are an inseparable pair. Think of one of those two characters, and the other comes to mind. In most productions of this musical, Sancho is purely comic, almost ridiculous character. It makes sense, I suppose. Alonso Quijano is a madman who believes he is a knight errant, that windmills are giants, and that a bar maid is a virtuous lady, yet Sancho remains his loyal companion. In Star Wars when Hans Solo calls Obi-Wan Kenobi a fool, Obi-Wan retorts, “Who is the more foolish, the fool or the one who follows him?” That describes how Sancho is generally played. If Don Quixote is foolish, then his sidekick must be truly ridiculous.

Levesque’s performance is indeed comic, and his portrayal of Sancho evokes plenty of laughter. But he also brings an utterly convincing and deeply moving sincerity to the character. At no point is this more evident than when in his rendition of “I Really Like Him.” In this song, pressed for reasons, why he follows a man who is clearly delusional, Sancho searches for rationalizations, but is ultimately obliged to admit that his main reason is affection for Don Quixote. The performance takes the song from a relatively insignificant comic interlude to one of the most powerful numbers in the show.

The production closes December 24th, so see it while you can!

Photos: Courtesy of the New Rep Theater

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