Man of La Mancha, currently playing at the London Coliseum (until 8 June 2019), has not been staged in the West End since 1968. The source text has a long history ranging from televised plays to films over to different revivals of this musical on Broadway. Dale Wasserman sets the well-known story of the novel Don Quixote into a framing narrative where author Miguel de Cervantes (Kelsey Grammer) and his servant (Peter Polycarpou) entertain fellow prison inmates (Nicholas Lyndhurst and others) during a mock-trial whilst awaiting judgement from the Inquisition. Man of La Mancha is riddled with complexities and contrasts: there are three layers within it, the framing prison narrative, the story of Don Quixote, and then within that the fantastical delusions of Alonso Quijano, who sets out on knightly adventures with his trusted companion Sancho Pancha. On his quest, he finds love in the poor bar wench Aldonza, who he identifies as his beloved lady Dulcinea (Cassidy Janson and Danielle de Niese share the role). Niece Antonia (Lucy St Louis), fiancé Dr Sanson Carrasco (Eugene McCoy) and the local Padre (Minal Patel) come up with a plan to cure Quijano’s insanity and bring him home.
The same key creatives who have staged Sweeney Todd and Chess previously at the Coliseum now combine forces for this production.
Director Lonny Price has updated the setting to be a nondescript modern fascist regime. The play-within-a-play remains set in a traditional 17th-century, which shines through the drab grey surrounds of what is meant to be a bombed out museum-turned-prison (set design by James Noone). It literally shines through – as Cervantes sets the scene, blue and orange glows evoke the feeling of country sunsets, stars appear in the ceiling of the prison, and the players themselves are now clad in colourful clothing (outstanding costume design from Fotini Dimou) to portray the characters assigned to them by the master narrator.
The casting is as full of contrasts as the story, with Kelsey Grammer having to perform opposite operatic soprano Niese/Janson of “Wicked” and “Beautiful” fame. That said, Grammer does impressively belt out the tunes, and is the perfect casting for a kooky-but-noble Cervantes, instilling grace and wisdom into a tale of delusions.
The star-studded cast does a lovely job with this lighthearted piece tucking at the heartstrings of its audience to live their best lives and release their inner dreamers. As mentioned, some aspects of the musical are a bit odd (i.e. the strange framing) however during a play that constantly asks its audience to suspend disbelief to such a high degree it can be forgiven.
After all, the Knight of Mirrors who seeks to show Quixote the truth turns out to be more of a villain than a saviour.
Reviewed by Lisa Theresa Downey-Dent
Photo: Manuel Harlan
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