The Tony Award-winning musical “Man of La Mancha” dates to 1965 and was inspired by the novel “Don Quixote” by Miguel de Cervantes from the early 1600s.
It may not be surprising, then, that Triad Stage’s artistic director, Preston Lane, felt the need to set his company’s production in a more contemporary situation.
Similar to the original musical written by Dale Wasserman, with music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion, this “Man of La Mancha” is set in a jail.
But this jail is modern, perhaps even futuristic. It has chain-link fences, barbed wire, security cameras and other current fittings. It has harsh lights, along with projections that include the watching eye of Big Brother when they aren’t setting a scene for the imagined adventures of Don Quixote.
Its inmates, similarly, wear individualized, up-to-date clothing (designed by K. April Soroko).
As Lane says in a program note, “I was determined to shake off the 1960s theatricality and place the musical firmly and immediately in our times.”
In this world, the Spanish Inquisition is replaced with a more modern imprisoning and questioning of supposed enemies of the state. One of them is a poet, playwright, actor and sometime tax collector (Cervantes) whose only possession of value is a manuscript of a novel he’s working on.
Whether set in its traditional Spanish jail cell or a modern American one, the songs and the storytelling of the musical are compelling and timely.
Cervantes (very ably played by Graham Stevens, who moves effortlessly from the somewhat shy, retiring writer to the aging but inspirational Quixote) tells his story of a mad country squire by slowly drawing the inmates into parts in the “play” he’s presenting. He has the support of his faithful companion, Sancho (DeMone), and the disbelieving Aldonza (Sherz Aletaha), who becomes Quixote’s vision of womanhood, Dulcinea.
Flexible pieces within the jail magically become many things — brooms and buckets are horses; rolling hospital carts and six matching benches create many settings.
The leads (Stevens, DeMone and Aletaha) carry their roles and their transitions beautifully, not to mention having perfect singing voices for the material.
The rest of the ensemble — especially when the ensemble gets to sing together — are powerful, too. Cristina Duchesne (Antonia), Dan Callaway (the Padre), Christine Morris (Housekeeper) and, later, Michael Yeshion (Carrasco), are especially fun on “I’m Only Thinking of Him” and “We’re Only Thinking of Him.”
Triad Stage regular Michael Tourek also has some fine moments as the Innkeeper.
One must also give a nod to Justin P. Cowan, music director, and the solid 15-piece orchestra.
Quixote may have gone off the deep end, imagining himself a “knight errant” from a time long gone.
He represents, however, an uplifting philosophy. “A knight without a lady is like a body without a soul,” he says. And when people confront him, he says “facts are the enemy of truth.”
He’s a likeable madman, and this play within a play tells a heartwarming story quite well.