“Man of La Mancha” is a very musical musical — there’s lots of singing that advances the plot and background music when there are no voices. It’s almost like an opera.
It takes the right kind of ensemble to meet its vocal demands. For the new production at the Omaha Community Playhouse, director Hilary Adams has assembled a cast that not only meets the challenge, it conquers the music like Don Quixote slays his imaginary dragons.
The voices are clear, crisp and emotive, opera-quality in several cases. The harmony is lavish. The 11-piece orchestra, directed by Jim Boggess, included two trumpets, a flute, a piccolo and a clarinet and provided spot-on accompaniment.
In short, the show is a tuneful delight. But that’s not all it has going for it: add acting, the set and lighting to the mix.
“La Mancha” takes place in a Spanish prison during the Inquisition. Author Miguel de Cervantes is jailed awaiting his fate, and his fellow prisoners give him a mock trial before the officials return. His defense is to share a story he has written about the fictional Don Quixote de la Mancha, who fancies himself a knight though there haven’t been knights for 300 years. Cervantes came to the prison with a trunk full of props and costumes, and the prisoners assume roles in the story.
The musical, which debuted on Broadway in 1965, remains fresh today — in fact, its story about idealism and one man’s quest to bring grace to the world is an antidote to an often coarse and cynical society.
Jennifer Gilg, John E. Jones and Samantha Quintana were vocal standouts.
Gilg, the musical’s female lead, shows an impressive range both musically and emotionally as Aldonza, the woman Quixote calls Dulcinea and chooses as his lady fair, though in reality Aldonza is a prostitute. Gilg captures her character’s anger, confusion and yearning in her signature song, “Aldonza,” when she tries to tell Quixote what she’s really like.
Jones, as the Padre, ends the first act on a high note with the soaring and sentimental “To Each His Dulcinea.” And Quintana (Antonia), who hits high notes with ease, joins Jones and Judy Radcliff (the Housekeeper) in a clever round and harmony on “I’m Only Thinking of Him.”
Veteran actor Cork Ramer was a marvelous Quixote — inspiring as he delivered the show’s most memorable song, “The Impossible Dream,” though his voice doesn’t have the strong quality of the others. Noel Larrieu and John Morrissey, in comic roles, were lively and engaging.
Scenic and lighting designer Jim Othuse created a believable and versatile Spanish prison set with an ingenious touch: a large staircase in the middle that was lowered to deliver or fetch prisoners. For a church scene, he projected stained-glass windows on the set’s walls — perhaps a product of the theater’s new lighting system.
On preview night, the cast was clearly ready for prime time — I didn’t notice any of the glitches that sometimes plague a final rehearsal. My advice: Turn off reality TV and take in “Man of La Mancha.”
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