Thursday, June 23, 2011

Man of la Mancha is enjoyable

by Andrew Juhl

Washington - Man of La Mancha is a musical inspired by Miguel de Cervantes’ 17th century masterpiece Don Quixote. A play within a play, Cervantes and his fellow prisoners perform the story of the “mad” knight Don Quixote as they collectively await hearings under the Spanish Inquisition.

Washington Community Theatre is performing the musical at the Washington Community Center, which possesses a comfortable, somewhat large permanent theatre for a smaller town of roughly 7,000. Even though WCT normally stages only three productions each year, the community theatre members are a rabidly enthusiastic group, as-one committed to putting-out strong shows and who know how to use their stage and auditorium like a master carpenter knows how to use his tools. This especially goes for the tech crew, who exhibited slyly proficient lighting and sound design. Jeff Crone, the lighting designer, should especially be commended for adding nuance throughout the show.

The onstage presences are unassumingly talented, as well. Mike Jewell belts out an impressive version of the Broadway standard “The Impossible Dream” as well as competently portrays Don Quixote with the requisite bumbling lunacy. He is less interesting as Cervantes, but then again almost all Don Quixotes are. Rebekah Trotter’s fantastic voice lends needed solemnity to the character of Aldonza, Quixote’s love interest—though that downtrodden tone was also present throughout the happier scenes, making the character some measure more pitiful than necessary. Additionally of note are Beth McBride (“Housekeeper”) and Mackenzie Roth (“Antonia”), who-with Brian Langer (“Padre”)-provided a wonderful rendition of “I’m Only Thinking of Him.” I remember seeing Man of La Mancha as a high school junior and finding that song simply insufferable; this trio, however, shows just how beautifully constructed the music and lyrics really are.

Don Hughes pulls the entire show together with skilled direction, both on the stage and as the orchestra pit conductor. He and vocal director Beth McBride have expertly collaborated; rarely does his 17-piece pit get in the way of the singer on stage. Though a few songs were still somewhat loose during my preview, I have faith that Hughes and McBride are aware of these soft spots and will be focusing on them prior to Thursday’s opening night performance.

I was worried that the entire production would have a “Hey, gang, let’s put on a show!” vibe to it, but the dedication and enthusiasm of the cast and crew turn in a community-produced musical that is enjoyably dependable. Overall, I would definitely endorse the short drive to Washington to see WCT’s Man of La Mancha this weekend.

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