Review: Asolo Rep Offers Up a Rousing Man of La Mancha
Asolo Rep is closing its season with a rousing new production of the popular musical Man of La Mancha, and it’s both a welcome reminder of the play’s strengths and a fresh look at a show you may not have seen for a while.
Incoming Asolo producing artistic director Peter Rothstein is at the helm of this version of the show, which was first seen in Minneapolis in 2017. It’s a compelling take on the original, which bowed on Broadway in 1965 and won several Tonys. In it, writer Dale Wasserman actually tells the story of two men of La Mancha: the famous tilting-at-windmills “knight” Don Quixote and the author of the much beloved 1605 book about him, Miguel de Cervantes.
In the original, Cervantes finds himself locked up with other prisoners at the behest of the Spanish Inquisition. Here, Cervantes (Mauricio Martinez) and his faithful ally Sancho Panza (Aaron De Jesus) are again behind bars of a sort, but this time it’s a contemporary-looking detention center, a sterile, brightly lit and looming structure designed by Michael Hoover where other detainees (migrants? political prisoners?) are also waiting to be interrogated, without much hope of freedom.
The “governor” of the center's detainees (C. Mingo Long) allows Cervantes to present an entertainment/defense for the crimes the prisoners charge him with, which include being a bad poet. This leads to the writer quickly donning the appearance of Don Quixote and launching into the spirited tune “Man of La Mancha (I, Don Quixote)” as the classic tale unfolds.
From the beginning, Rothstein and his stellar cast have the production firmly in hand. Martinez is an energetic, charismatic Cervantes/Quixote/Alonso Quijana with a fine singing voice (his “Impossible Dream” is truly a virtuoso performance), well-paired with De Jesus as the often humorous Sancho and with Janely Rodriguez as Aldonza, the serving wench/prostitute Quixote believes to be his lady Dulcinea. Rodriguez makes for a fierce Aldonza, taunting a rough group of muleteers at the inn/castle where Quixote and Sancho seek refuge, but she’s also capable of showing the character’s vulnerability. And her vocal skills allow for both belting out a number and soaring into the higher ranges of some of composer Mitch Leigh’s beautiful songs.
The ensemble cast is likewise fine, whether it be the trio concerned about Quijana’s mental health on “I’m Only Thinking of Him” (Sydney Chow, Brian Kim McCormick and Cathy Newman), Rodolfo Nieto as both an adversarial prisoner and the scholarly Dr. Carrasco, or Long as the more kindly governor/innkeeper. Performing to choreography by Cat Brindisi, including some lively fight scenes, they keep the audience stirred up.
Kudos also to the music direction by Jenny Kim-Godfrey and to her orchestra, who deliver the often Spanish-flavored flair of Leigh’s score with gusto; and to the projection design by Greg Emetaz, which allows us to see the play’s various settings through Quixote’s eyes, as well as the starker realities seen by others.
Amazingly, considering the show’s ambitious nature, the creatives behind it have been able to drive it forward in under two hours (with no intermission in this case). More importantly, they have captured the heart of Quixote/Cervantes’ impossible quest—lofty goals of peace, hope, moral right—that may never be achieved, but must be striven for.
Man of La Mancha continues through June 11. For tickets, call (941) 351-8000 or visit asolorep.org.