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Remarkable “Man of La Mancha” at Western Michigan University (Review) April 11, 2015

Posted by ronannarbor in musical theater, Musicals.
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There’s a remarkable production of Dale Wasserman, Mitch Leigh, and Joe Darion’s 1965 musical “Man of La Mancha” being staged by Western Michigan University at the Williams Theatre this weekend and next. I’d try not to miss it if I were you…

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Jay Berkow, MSU’s Director of the Music Theatre Performance program directs and choreographs a cast of 26, Musical Director Matthew Shabala also conducts the orchestra of 10. If ever there is a musical that defines the term “ensemble piece” LaMancha is it — but it is also a star-making vehicle, and this production has that star in junior music theater performance major Miguel Ragel Wilson, who is, in a word, excellent as Cervantes/Quixote. His baritone singing voice soars out at what seems twice his actual age, and his acting will leave you crying during the musical’s master-song “Impossible Dream”. In fact, keep the hankies out for the finale as well.

The student cast ranges from very good to great, among them Anica Garcia DeGraff as Aldonza, Mike Perlongo as as Sancho, Charles Benson as the Innkeeper, and Aaron C. Rutherford as Carrasco. Also strong are Chase Gray as madman/padre, Carrie Drummond as Antonia, and Ana Martinez as housekeeper.

Scenic Designer Dave Nofsinger has designed a gorgeous multi-level set, complete with drawbridge. Kathryn Wagner’s costume work is period correct and looks fantastic on her actors. Berkow keeps everything moving at a swift pace (110 minutes without an intermission) and by the time you get to that final sequence (you know how it ends, don’t you?) you’ve been entertained, laughed, cried, and made to feel something.

Before Les Miserables and its barricade…before Next to Normal and its emotional ending…there were musicals like LaMancha — they told a story; they made you cry because the actors made you feel; and they did it without special effects or other stage magic. What makes LaMancha work so well is its simple, clearly told story — the effective use of ensemble to convey all the other characters in that story — and an ending that, well, leaves you a bit worried about how it all turns out. The musical won 5 Tony awards in 1965, including Best Musical, and had a (very bad) movie adaptation. It used to be done by every single high school, college, community theater, and regional theater around. Now productions are far and few between, and you should not miss this one.

I’ve seen probably 20 different productions of Man of LaMancha (it is in my top-ten list of favorite musicals) but this one ranks among my favorite — and that is because Berkow knows that the show has a style, and a flow, and a pace that is unique to the piece, and because he stays authentic to it. If you have never seen the show, you will probably experience a similar feeling to what it must have been like to see the show at the Anta Theatre in NYC. If you have seen the show before, then you’ll realize what a well-done production this one is.

It is remarkable musical theater done remarkably well.

Very Highly Recommended. (I would make it required attendance if I were teaching).

Man of LaMancha continues at the Williams Theater on the campus of Western Michigan University through April 19th. Tickets at https://millerauditorium.secure.force.com/ticket

One word of warning: Arrive early. There is plenty of free parking directly outside the theatre complex, but this is open general admission seating. Use the door to your far left of the lobby, it is the only one they open for this production. Once the doors open, its the running of the bulls to find your seats, and if you arrive anything less than 15 minutes before showtime, you’ll be scrambling to find anything together.

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