OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
So, you’ve seen “Man of La Mancha” multiple times and think you know the show inside out. Perhaps not. The current production at The Shakespeare Theatre, on the pretty campus of Drew University, is a startlingly different approach from many. Director Monte has taken risks by taking us back to the original material and looked it over again through fresh eyes.
And in doing so, she has discovered fresh new strengths, fresh insights, tossed aside some of the cartoonish cleverness of some recent and casual productions in favor of a more realistic period piece. And, surprisingly, in the process unearthed new moments of fun and more interesting characters.
Ms. Monte has started with the title character — Miguel de Cervantes, the nobleman who imagines himself to be a knight errant, Don Quixote, ready to tilt at windmills, rescue maidens in distress and right the wrongs of society. Of course, every character in this outing plays at least one other role during the evening. For example, Cervantes/Quixote is played by William Michals, making his debut in Madison, although he has played virtually every major musical role across the U.S. and has one of the finest baritone voices in all of musical theater. Plus the acting talent to back it up.
Here he sinks his teeth into the role without examining the cute side glances other actors often think important. He concentrates on “the quest” with a focus that captures one’s imagination and his singing of “the Impossible Dream” brought one of the loudest, longest ovations ever heard. Blake Pfeil, who plays Cervante’s manservant (and therefore also Sancho) handles the role, not as a cherubic buffoon as so many have, but completely straight — with intensity. Risky to be sure, but immensely satisfying. Thus the secondary characters spend much of their time, reacting as needed.
“In order to attain the impossible, one must attempt the absurd.”— Miguel de Cervantes.
“Man of La Mancha” continues at The Shakespeare Theatre. Please call the box office at (973) 408-5600 for reservations and information.