Review: ‘Man of La Mancha’ at The Arlington Players

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In the early 1600s, Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes wrote what would become his masterpiece, the novel Don Quixote. The novel was a huge success and has become a staple in the literary world. In 1964, writer Dale Wasserman teamed up with composers Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion and created the Broadway smash and Tony Award-winning Best Musical Man of La Mancha.

Hans Detmer (Don Quxote). Photo by Clare Shaffer.
Hans Dettmar (Don Quixote) and Melanie Jennings-Bales (Aldonza). Photo by Clare Shaffer.

Like its source material, the musical itself has become somewhat of a staple to the musical theatre community, which makes sense to me. I’m not a person who advocates for everything to be musicalized; there are already too many “movie turned musical” projects out there. But given the novel’s romantic nature, it seems that a musical adaptation would almost be necessary. It certainly has sustained a life in the theatre world – a life that is brought to the stage by Director Clare Shaffer at the Arlington Players.

Man of La Mancha is a play-within-a-play. There is only one setting: a dungeon in Spain. The story centers on Cervantes (Hans Dettmar), along with his manservant, being thrown into a dungeon with all their possessions by the Spanish Inquisition. The residents of the dungeon become unruly and put Cervantes on trial. If he is found guilty, they get all his possessions. Cervantes’ defense is a play that is acted out by him and the residents of the dungeon. This play tells the story of Don Quixote de La Mancha, a knight, along with his squire Sancho Panza (Micky Goldstein) and their many adventures. We are also introduced to Aldonza (Melanie Jennings-Bales), a low woman whom Quixote mistakes for his lady love, the beautiful Dulcinea.

Hans Dettmar plays the dual role of Cervantes and Don Quixote. His grace and charisma shine through in both characters in a layered performance. When he sang the musical’s signature song, “The Impossible Dream,” chills came through me. And his performance of “Dulcinea” showed the richness of his voice.

Aldonza is played by Melanie Jennings-Bales. The character is quite crude and low, but Jennings-Bales adds a nice sincerity to her performance and sings the role quite nicely. She delivers passionate renditions of “It’s All the Same” and “What Does He Want of Me?.”

This is Micky Goldstein’s third time playing Sancho and he has the character down pat with his heartwarming performance as Quixote’s sidekick. His performance of “I Really Like Him” brought many well-deserved laughs.

L to R: Jordan King (Anselmo), Theodore Sapp (Pedro), Christophe Jelinski (Muleteer), Daniel Santiago (Guitarist), Hans Dettmar (Quixote), Garrett Matthews (Duke), and Tom Mirenda (Padre). Photo by Clare Shaffer.
L to R: Jordan King (Anselmo), Theodore Sapp (Pedro), Christophe Jelinski (Muleteer), Daniel Santiago (Guitarist), Hans Dettmar (Quixote), Garrett Matthews (Duke), and Tom Mirenda (Padre). Photo by Clare Shaffer.

The rest of the hard-working ensemble sounded terrific. The excellent musical direction by Paige Rammelkamp was highlighted by the exceptional playing of her musicians.

I really enjoyed the technical elements of the production. The elaborate dungeon set was designed by Jared Davis. The set helped to outline the dungeon and its conditions and was also open enough to let the actors create another world for Quixote. I also really enjoyed E-hui Woo’s lighting design. I found the difference in lighting between the Cervantes plot and the Don Quixote plot to be most effective. Joan Lawrence’s costumes also added a nice touch to the production.”

At my performance there were sound problems with the microphones. I am confident that this issue was resolved for last night’s performance.

Like the other characters in the play, it’s hard to resist Quixote and by extension, the musical’s charm. When the cast comes together in the end to sing “The Impossible Dream,” I did find myself quite moved. I also found myself looking at the musical in a different light.

This isn’t a musical about a man telling a story. It’s about an artist and how his work brings a community together, as both Cervantes and Quixote bring a community of people together with their stories.

The Arlington Players’ production of Man of La Mancha is filled with exceptional performances and is quite inspiring. Don’t miss it.

Running Time: Two hours, with no intermission.

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Man of La Mancha is being performed by The Arlington Players through October 8, 2016, at Thomas Jeferson Community Theatre – 125 South Old Glebe Rd in Arlington, VA. Tickets may be purchased at the door or online.

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