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TBT's 'Man of La Mancha' shows why it remains a classic

October 2, 2012
By DIANE SPEER - News Lifestyles Editor , The Alpena News

In this modern era of high unemployment, staggering national debt and political unrest in many parts of the world, we all might do well to take a cue from Don Quixote.

As the famed idealistic knight in "Man of La Mancha," Don Quixote is both a dreamer and a champion of the power of imagination over the tyranny of the realistic. He doesn't see things as they really are, but as he imagines them to be at their best. Sure, he's delusional, but in the end, he makes even the toughest critics around him believe in possibility.

Thunder Bay Theatre is currently revisiting "Man of La Mancha," and in the hands of the talented cast and crew, it's easy to see why the show remains a literary classic. Who doesn't love the story of this old tilter of windmills and his signature song about dreaming impossible dreams?

Article Photos

Courtesy Photo
The cast for Thunder Bay Theatre’s current production of “Man of La Mancha” includes, front row left, Emily Szatkowski, Hannah Matzke, Riley McGuire and Mariah Purol; second row, LeShawn Bell, Derek Spack, Travis Atkinson, Landen Revilla, Colin Marshall and Mackenzie Fountain; third row, Carol Rundell, Nickie Hilton, Terry Carlson, William?Powell, David Usher, J.R. Rodriguez, Suni Travis, Randy Bouchard, Bruce Michaud, Zach Clement and Rick Mesler.

The play is near and dear to the heart of TBT Artistic Director J.R. Rodriguez, who learned method acting under one of the actors who starred in the original Broadway production back in 1965. Rodriguez chose to stage the action at TBT on an ambitiously constructed set patterned after the original one first seen on Broadway.

He also wisely took the lead role of Don Quixote. It's wonderful to see him return to his roots as a seasoned performer with outstanding vocal chops. Not only does he fully create the many facets of his dual character (alternately fearful, idealistic, resourceful and beaten), but he clearly loves and understands the material, and his cast seems to have wholeheartedly caught his passion.

As a refresher, "Man of La Mancha" was suggested by the novel, "Don Quixote de la Mancha" by Miguel de Cervantes. In the play, Cervantes (Rodriguez) and his manservant have been imprisoned by the Spanish Inquisition.

A manuscript written by Cervantes is seized by his fellow inmates, who subject him to a mock trial in order to determine whether it should be returned. His defense is in the form of a play, in which he takes the role of Alonso Quijano, an old gentleman who has lost his mind and now believes that he should go forth as the knight errant. Cervantes convinces the other prisoners to act out the story of his Don Quixote, his squire Sancho Panza and the kitchen wench, Aldonza.

This play-within-a-play structure is solid, emotionally satisfying and well-sung. It features some of Alpena's favorite performers, including David Usher as Sancho Panza. Perfectly cast in this sidekick role, Usher is charming, performing his numbers with his customary topnotch musicianship and comedic skill.

Suni Travis also shines as the hard-bitten Aldonza, who is both a perpetual victim of her circumstances and a gutsy survivor. With equal measures of talent, she sings the fiery lament, "Aldonza," the pensive "What Does He Want of Me?" and the heartbroken "Impossible Dream" reprise. It is she who so stirringly reaffirms the noble vision of Don Quixote as he lies dying on his bed.

Randy Bouchard brings his pure, ballad-worthy voice to the show as well in the part of the Padre. His stellar delivery of the song, "To Each His Dulcinea," is unquestionably a memorable moment. Bruce Michaud as the governor/innkeeper brings a winningly bedraggled demeanor to his role. William Powell succeeds as the sometimes stuffy, sometimes detestable duke/Dr. Carrasco.

Also engaging are the playful though brutal group of muleteers handled by Derek Spack, LeShawn Bell, Mackenzie Fountain, Travis Atkinson, Landen Revilla and Colin Marshall.

The vocals and character work are impressive throughout the cast, including with Nickie Hilton as Don Quixote's niece, Terry Carlson as his housekeeper, Carol Rundell as Maria, and Zach Clement as the hapless barber.

Rounding out the cast are Rick Mesler as the intimidating captain of the Inquisition, Mariah Purol and Riley McGuire as a dancing, prancing horse and mule, and Hannah Matzke and Emily Szatkowski as gyrating gypsies.

Since the creatively rendered set doubles as both the common room of the Spanish Inquisition's prison and the inn of the Quixote story, TBT's lighting design helps to easily transition between the two. The costumes, especially for the principle characters, also are well done.

From top to bottom, the show is a hit, but it is Rodriguez whose vision as a director and skills as an actor truly elevate "Man of La Mancha." He performs some of the most glorious numbers in the show, including "Man of La Mancha (I, Don Quixote)," "Dulcinea" and, of course, "The Impossible Dream (The Quest)."

Remaining performances of this tale about a misguided knight who "fights for the right" are Oct. 4-14 with showtimes at 7:30 p.m. Thursday to Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. For tickets, call the box office at 354-2267.



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