Some Things Stunning – 5th Avenue’s Opening – Man of La Mancha!


man-of-lamanchaThe 5th Avenue Theater has mounted an opening season show with stunning production values and some vivid relevant political messaging in this new take of the old classic: Man of La Mancha. You should see it!

The sets, lighting, costuming, singing and choreography are inventive and mesmerizing. Allison Narver an outstandingly capable and very creative director has dropped the play into modern times with good effects. Sad that the Spanish Inquisition, its original era, has a haunting resemblance to modern political times; but, this play in the hands of Narver takes the irony written into the show by Dale Wasserman (who took that inspiration from Cervantes’ Don Quixote) to new and other levels. “The musical was a deeply political, piece upon its first inception. I want to honor that spirit. This feels especially urgent right now as our world reels from ethnic, religious and political, turmoil,” says Narver.

This fairly well-known tale of the idealistic knight errant “tilting at windmills” who always sees good in everyone and holds them to a higher standard has some particular messages for our current political presidential processes and world political conditions which could use a big dose of some of Don Quixote’s code of chivalry. The plays prison setting and mock courtroom have their own metaphors – historical and present.

Mark Baumgarten of The Weekly in his interview after watching rehearsal points out: “the cross-racial casting…is just one update Narver is bringing to the story…” Rufus Bonds, Jr and Nova Y. Payton, both accomplished actors and singers, play the lead male and female roles. Their being black accomplishes Narver’s goal as does the casting of excellent actor Hispanic Don Darryl Rivera as the so funny, so loyal and so kind sidekick Sancho. As does the racial diversity of the entire ensemble casting.

Rufus Bonds, Jr. – Don Quixote, Company of Man of La Mancha. Photo by Mark Kitaoka.

The voices are strong, especially Payton, the harmonies so well done by leads and the ensemble. Bonds, Jr., a late addition to the cast, has an unusual interpretation of the famous role of Quixote and some acting glitches. His “Impossible Dream”, which he certainly made his own, should smooth out with time to be something special.

The powerful and beautiful ending finale by the entire cast of “Impossible Dream” gave me goosebumps and a glimmer of hope – I think enough to get me through the next 30 days to the elections and even maybe beyond! Cynthia Kortman Westphal gets lots of credit for her musical direction of this production – original music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion. Kudos to: Matthew Smucker for the stark, simple yet intricate set, Harmony Arnold’s great costumes, L.B. Morse amazing lighting and interesting choreography by Maria Torres. The show is bone chillingly realistic, has a ghostly character The Knight of the Mirrors and is so oddly hauntingly beautiful in so many ways…again, apropos to the season!

Tableaus, projections and shadows on the wall are carefully crafted and cleverly creative. I so loved the idea of the windmill being an exhaust fan that takes on the projected image of the familiar solar windmills of our age. There are tons of visual treats and surprises, great cast voices doing good music like “Little Bird, Little Bird” and great music like “The Impossible Dream”* to keep you entertained for this ‘play within a play’, a two hour, and no intermission show. You won’t miss the intermission!

The idea of chivalry, the importance of a quest and the reminder to “dream the impossible dream – to fight the unbeatable foe” comes at a time when those sentiment are most welcomed by me living in today’s world. This meaningful production is a visual and visceral delight. Get tickets! This runs until October 30th.

The season at The 5th Avenue will continue with some good offerings for 2016-2017. And, they have a great new lobby rug, new upstairs bathrooms and a new sound system from their Next Stage fundraising!

*Bonus: I had a ton of fun looking at this version done by Richard Kiley the first Don Quixote on Broadway and winner of a Tony in 1968 as well as Andy Williams, Elvis, The Smother Brothers on Johnny Carson, Frank Sinatra, Gomer Pyle (Jim Nabors)! I have provided the links for you in case you have some free time and are kept in by a winter’s storm as I am today!

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