“I shall impersonate a man” says the author Miguel de Cervantes as he begins to spin his tale of the idealistic knight, Don Quixote, described by one of the other characters in the play as “either the maddest wise man or the wisest mad man in the world.”
In Man of La Mancha, Cervantes has been thrown into a prison cell to await his trial with the Spanish Inquisition. As he acts out his tale of Don Quixote for the benefit of his fellow prisoners, he draws upon the others to play the supporting roles. It is a unique story-telling twist that underscores the connection between the author and his subject.
It all comes down to perception: Quixote sees only good in the world. A miserable kitchen wench is to him the lady Dulcinea. A rundown tavern is assumed to be a castle and so on. The show is also a valentine to theatrics as Cervantes pulls needed props and costumes from his trunk.
Director Vinnie Sestito has the cast reinforce this parallel, and the production is at its best when the audience is seduced into believing Quixote’s tale, only to be reminded moments later that we are merely watching a play within a play.
Robby Burko takes on the dual roles of Cervantes and Quixote, making seamless transitions from one character to the other. He gradually shows Quixote becoming weaker, letting his voice lose power as the show progresses.
Playing Quixote’s sidekick, Sancho Panza, Antonio Olivito provides some light-hearted relief from the more serious aspects of the story. His scene delivering his master’s missive to Aldonza is very well played and late in the show he delights us with his song “A Little Gossip.”
As the hardened, unhappy Aldonza, Erin Hyde balances the character’s bewilderment with mounting rage as she tries to understand Don Quixote’s quest. Hyde brings a deeply felt plaintiveness in her solo “What Does He Want of Me?” and frenzied anger to her tirade “Aldonza,” which provides us with some the seamier details of the lady’s back-story.
With three strong leading players forging the way, the rest of the company keeps pace bringing to life the other characters in the story, notably John Meadows as the Innkeeper and Steve Kyriacopoulos as the barber who loses his shaving basin to Quixote who believes it to be the “Golden Helmet of Mambrino.” Here and in a few other crucial spots some of the lyrics are lost due to the busy staging and some overly zealous playing by Gwyneth Sestito’s nine-piece orchestra.
The musical has lost some of its innovative edge over the years as the story-telling techniques have been recycled into other shows. Even so, the melodic score and compelling story drew cheers from the opening night audience.
The Alexander Singers present Man of La Mancha at York Woods Library Theatre, 1785 Finch Ave. West until May 13. Evening performances start at 7:30 Thursday to Saturday with a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday. See www.alexandersingers.com or call their box office at 416-324-1259 for tickets.