I Like Him!

This is about to be a review of Man of La Mancha, but I never got around to plugging The Metromaniacs, which closes today, so you should rush and see it if you can. I have something of a crush now on David Ives, the translator. He's now done three collaborations with the Shakespeare Theatre's artistic director, Michael Kahn, and the man's use of language is breathtaking. He takes French plays written in rhyming couplets and converts them into English with true rhyme, perfect meter, nimble word-play, adroit comic timing and just the right sprinkling of anachronistic jokes. It's absolutely dazzling, and in the case of Metromaniacs, one has the distinct impression he's rendered a better play than the original.

Onward, then, to Man of La Mancha.

Blessed is she who expects nothing, for every now and then she'll be tickled by a delightful surprise. I'll be blunt: I expected to hate last night's performace. Let me count the ways:

  • I'd never seen a live production of the play, but I hate the Peter O'Toole movie version, considering it virtually unwatchable;
  • I truly dislike the famous number, "To Dream the Impossible Dream," and don't think much of the rest of the music, either. 
  • I know, I know, but I really didn't expect the Spanish Inquisition. The actual Cervantes never faced the Inquisition, but that doesn't stop playwright Dale Wasserman from staging his play in prison, where fictional Cervantes awaits his appearance before Bad Catholics. Gratuitous Church digs tick me off. 
I was surprised therefore to find myself completely drawn in to this performance. It's cleverly staged and the ensemble is strong, but credit has to go to Anthony Warlow (Cervantes/Quixote), who's apparently a bigshot in Australia and beyond, but I confess this my introduction to him.  (He's from NSW, Brett, if you're out there!) He has a powerful, clear baritone voice, but he's simultaneously an actor with wit and subtlety. His ability to adopt and shed at a moment's notice the bearing, voice and mannerisms of an old man is a thing to behold -- and yet, he doesn't call such attention to his craft that you are aware of watching "acting." You just believe.  I think it's rare when watching a musical not to be aware you're watching a musical. I credit Warlow.

Holding her own against him as Aldonza/ Dulcinea is Amber Iman, a 20-something local gal made good. I was impressed with her singing and acting too -- usually real singers can't act and real actors can't really sing.

The lady next to me pretty much wept her way through the whole two hours.  That wasn't me, but still: well done.

P.S. Man of La Mancha trivia: author Dale Wasserman's play is sort of like fan fiction. It's an exploration of his own using Cervantes' characters. It doesn't even pretend to be true to either Cervantes' life or his story and Wasserman's pet peeve was people who called his show "the musical version of Don Quixote."  No it isn't!

Also: the play was originally not a musical, but Wasserman couldn't get anyone to stage it until he took the suggestion to make it a musical. W. H. Auden was originally hired as the lyricist, but they never used his lyrics, as they were thought to be too acerbic. (I'd like to read those. Wonder where they are.)

Update:  a kind reader found some of the Auden lyrics