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The Ottawa Citizen - Theatre Review

Orpheus presents moving La Mancha

by Bruce Deachman [Sunday, March 4, 2001]

"Kelly Whelan and fellow principal actors Bob Lackey and Dennis Van Staalduinen provide 'exceptional' performances."

If it's a successful theatrical production that can sweep up its audience and whisk it to another place, then the Orpheus Society's presentation of Dale Wasserman's Man of La Mancha, which opened Friday night at Centrepointe Theatre, left very few in the sold-out crowd disappointed.

The musical was headed by the exceptionally strong performances of its three principals, actors Bob Lackey, Dennis Van Staalduinen and Kelly Whelan, and well-supported by cast, orchestra and lighting and set designers.

Beginning with the drums and an initially-nervous brass section, led by conductor Marylen Milenkovic, opening-night jitters were quickly tossed aside as the curtain rose and the story, directed by Michael Gareau, started to unfold.

That story tells of the late-16th-, early-17th-century Spanish poet, playwright and soldier, Miguel de Cervantes (Lackey). It begins with his imprisonment in Seville, by the Spanish Inquisition, for an offence against "His Majesty's Most Catholic Church," namely that of attempting to foreclose on a church that hadn't paid its taxes.

With his manservant (Van Staalduinen), Cervantes is tossed into a jail full of thieves and murderers who, in a satirical mockery of the Inquisition, hold their own trial of the writer, charging him of being, among other things, an idealist and a bad poet.

If found guilty, Cervantes will lose all his possessions, the sum total of which are a chest of costumes and props, and, more importantly, the unfinished manuscript of his novel, Don Quixote.

Cervantes' defence comes in the form of a drama, one in which he plays Quixote, a knight errant who casts aside his sanity in an attempt to right the wrongs of a society bereft of chivalry and honour.

Of course, there's not much more entertaining than a madman, and Lackey plays the role with obvious enthusiasm and whimsy. With a barber's shaving dish on his head (the "Golden Helmet of Mambrino," he contends), a raspy voice, uneven gait and grey, tufted eyebrows as big as squirrels, Quixote turns inns into castles, windmills into four-armed beasts and bar wench-cum-prostitutes into fair virgin maidens. It's a romantic madness, for sure, and an appealing one.

Van Staalduinen's portrayal of Quixote's manservant, Sancho Panza, is a lively blend of clumsiness, humour and idolatry, while Whelan's wench, Aldonza, is suitably coarse, in a gum- chewing, knee-to-the-groin sort of way.

Wasserman's script is rife with humorous moments, and the cast delivers those adroitly, aided by wireless microphones which, while occasionally too noticeable, served to remove the need for the oft-required and sometimes stilting constraints of projecting through to a large theatre.

Much of the play's success, too, depends not just on the actor's performances, but on the sensory touches provided by the costumes, the set, and the lighting of those, and mention should go to Ann Ricard, Christie Bindhardt and David Magladry for their respective roles.

As for the musical numbers, what can I say? They're all well-performed and accompanied without flaw by the 15-person orchestra. I don't think I need to hear The Impossible Dream again for a while, but ...

Man of La Mancha runs until March 10 at Centrepointe Theatre, 101 Centrepointe Dr. Performances are at 8 p.m., except Sundays, when there is a 2 p.m. matinee. Tickets, from $18 to $22 and with discounts for seniors and students, are available through the Centrepointe box office, or by calling 727-6650.


CBO Radio - Theatre Review

Man of the Mancha - Orpheus

by Alvina Ruprecht [Monday, March 5, 2001] (not reviewed on air)

Orpheus is trying its hand these days at more demanding forms of musical theatre and it's good to see this.

Currently playing at Centrepointe theatre, MAN OF THE MANCHA, the musical that opened in 1965 and that since then has won Tony awards, awards from the New York Drama Critics Circle, not to mention the fact that the lead song, Impossible Dream' became one of the song hits of the decade. The book by Dale Wasserman is adapted from a television play, DON QUIXOTE, written earlier by Wasserman. Music is by Mitch Leigh, lyrics by Joe Darion. The artistic director of this Orpheus production is Michael Gareau, choreography is by Debbie Millett and the orchestra is conducted by Marylen Milenkovic.

MAN OF THE MANCHA is closer to musical theatre than what is traditionally called a Musical because there is very little dancing, a lot of spoken exchange that requires solid acting, even the songs need strong theatrical interpretations. For example the character of Aldonza, the tavern wench and whore whom Quixote transforms into his noble lady Dulcinea, is demanding from a performance point of view. As well, the musical numbers at times even transport us into the world of light opera because they demand semi-operatic voices and because the principals are given dramatic musical solos - without support of a dancing chorus - so the quality of the voices sustains the performance. Also, the fact that Placido Domingo and Julia Migenes recorded the music from the production, shows that the music is definitely food for the best voices in the business.

The Wasserman's book is worthy of the best form of theatre... because it evolves as a play within a play. The set is a jail and Christie Bindhardt's design is excellent...enhanced by Dave Magladry's very strong lighting effects..that brings us back to the Spanish Inquisition, and maintains a good sense of foreboding, as it launches us into a world of historical drama almost worthy of some of the best Hollywood swashbucklers of the period. Writer, poet, playwright, Miguel de Cervantes, finds himself in prison for writing things that annoyed the church. He finds himself in a dungeon, surrounded by the prisoners who are mainly a pack of thieves, rogues, killers...ready to cut his throat and toss his manuscript (Don Quixote) into the fire. Waiting for the moment the inquisition will come and take them away to be tortured, the prisoners set up a mock trial to condemn Cervantes to death and in his defense..Cervantes then sets out to tell the story of his manuscript..to stall for time..in a way that Scheherazade spun her tales, keeping the Sultan's interest all night so he wouldn't put her to death.

The performance becomes a play within a play as Cervantes, played here by Bob Lackey, and his manservant (Dennis Van Staalduinen) change costumes and transform themselves into the Squire Quijana who goes mad with his readings of tales of chivalry, and becomes Don Quixote de la Mancha with his faithful Sancho Panza. And they go off to fight windmills, right all wrongs and bring peace and love into the world. The musical of course came in the middle of the neo-romantic hippy period when make love not war' were the mottos of the day. But curiously enough, the musical captures much of the spirit of the original Spanish work, in spite of the fact that it brings in the author himself. What I liked about the musical however is the way it is consciously theatrical. The rogues in the dungeon are improvised actors who play many roles...and director Michael Gareau's staging emphasized the shifts back and forth from the Quixote world to the world of the Spanish dungeon....as the prisoners would play their roles, then suddenly giggle, and take off their accessories and fall back into the stage audience. The moments in the local tavern with the drunken muleteers worked very well, the rape scene was disturbing and the final mirror scene was magnificent, a fitting climax to the drama. They used the set in many imaginative ways which no doubt seemed to come from the original staging but director Gareau's sense of theatricality was excellent. He kept the pace of it all, he orchestrated the changes in mood, the shifts in performance moments and he certainly did justice to Dale Wasserman's book and Joe Darion's lyrics.

Bob Lackey as Cervantes, Quijana and ultimately the doddering old Don Quixote was actually remarkable for a non professional performance. He sent shivers up my spine in the scene where he sings of his impossible dream', then later in the show, wounded and dying he recovers his memory and sings of his continuing quest. In fact, he shifted characters flawlessly all through the show. And most important his voice was strong, and it brought out all the dramatic changes with enormous panache. His is not an operatic voice...none of the voices were actually....but it was a strong voice and it conveyed all the struggle, the passion the moments of dreaming that belong to Quixote's character. In fact Lackey seemed to perform at another level, leaving everyone else far behind and this difference created a certain malaise during the show. Kelly Whelan as the tortured Aldonza, seen also as Quixote's noble lady Dulcinea, who eventually comes to believe in the beauty and importance of Quixote's quest, has another extremely difficult role because she has to shift moods drastically. As Aldonza, the tough, earthy tavern wench who has to kick, scratch and literally fight for her survival at every moment, she went through the motions and most of the time her acting was more than adequate and it was particularly good in the final moment when she returns to Quijana's bedside to remind him who he must be....the knight who wants to bring love into the world. But in her tavern world, there could have been a lot more energy, vulgarity and much more anger in her character. Singing in the lower registers Whelan sounded perfect, but the upper registers were not good. One had the impression she was not breathing properly, as if she was forcing her voice and at those moments she lost the character completely. Dennis Van Staalduinen carried out his comic routines with a sense of great fun and a certain panache even though he had a tendency to slip off key from time to time. I did like his solo... "I Really Like Him", his answer to Aldonza when she asks him why he goes along with this old fellow and his delusions. Frank Duern as Rocinante, Don Quixote's horse made an even more remarkable impression as Anselmo, a Muleteer...a good voice...and I liked Kris Lizuck as Doctor Sanson Carrasco of the University of Salamanca who chases after Quixote and who also plays the prisoner who advocates for his hanging. Then there was Gary King as both the head of the thieves and the Innkeeper. Most of the characters blended well into the performance which, taken as a whole was good.

The overture began with some uncomfortable notes on the trumpet...the underlying Spanish melodies, are very exciting and there is even a belly dancer - associated with Moors and Gypsies, in Quixote's confused mind..but that's a surprise I won't spoil. The Flamenco dancer who comes out at the beginning was a bit bland I would say, so was the guitar player. There are so MANY good flamenco guitarists in this city they might have considered finding a better one, one that would give the dancer a run for her money and would give us a more authentic sound. A director always has the option to take liberties..with the score and that would have added a lot to the feeling in the prison. But on the whole this production of MAN OF THE MANCHA is a very enjoyable evening and it was clear that the audience was thrilled. It continues at Centrepointe Theatre from March 5 to 10. For tickets call 727-6650.

[ Source: CBC Ottawa Morning ]


FYI Ottawa - Theatre Review

Orpheus presents the musical Man of La Mancha, at Centrepointe Theatre until March 10

Singin' in the Spanish Inquisition

by Adrienne Ascah [March 6, 2001]

But it wouldn't hurt. Not that the production is poor - quite the contrary.

Its lead character Miguel de Cervantes, played by Bob Lackey (recently seen in Orpheus' Anything Goes), who asks us to consider the positive side of madness.

Imprisoned during the Spanish Inquisition, and subjected to a trial run by prisoners, de Cervantes, a tax collector and failed poet, is charged with idealism for foreclosing on a church that didn't pay its taxes. he said everyone was equal under the law.

Cervantes asks to defend himself by acting out his play, Don Quixote. The prisoners agree to participate, acting alongside him.

The play follows Alonso Quijana, who insists he's Don Quixote, a larger-than-life knight and hero. To most he's a crazy old man, but he insists insanity is seeing the world as it really is, instead of the way it should be.

Writing a musical set during the Spanish Inquisition is itself an act of questionable judgement, but playwright Dale Wasserman's Man of La Mancha works. It won't, of course, work for everyone. Over two hours long, with 28 musical numbers, you must really, really enjoy singing and dancing to sit through this play. In addition to getting your head around the concept of singing and dancing during the Spanish Inquisition, you also must accept prisoners who happen to be talented thespians. Still, Lackey's infectious Quixote, a talented support cast, particularly Kelly Whelan (playing Aldonza) and Terry Duncan's Padre Perez, along with an excellent orchestra, won over the full house on opening night.

Musical director Marylen Milenkovic and artistic director Michael Gareau admirably pulled of the feat of staging this play. Essential to this task were lighting designer Dave Magladry and set designer Christy Bindhardt. Bindhardt's set combines the grandeur and gloom one envisions in the "common room" of a fifteenth century prison, from the stone floor to the rickety wooden staircase. Magladry's lighting is effective and bold - at turns the stage gives off an other-worldly, glamorous, red glow. When Don Quixote rises from his deathbed, alive after all, the lighting becomes golden, as if the sun has just come out.

Sun rating (out of 5 stars): * * * 1/2