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TheatreWorks Presents a Spirited Man of La Mancha

By Allie Lembo, Somers' HamletHub


Now through January 5, you can head to the black box theater at TheatreWorks New Milford to experience the iconic Man of La Mancha, a 1965 musical chronicling Miguel de Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote, as he acts out his beloved character awaiting trial during the Spanish Inquisition. 

With expert direction by Francis A. Daley, the actors boldly and passionately embody the play's spirit of "dreaming the impossible dream," or searching for hope in a sea of hopelessness. 

Cervantes, played by Frederick Rueck, is on trial by his fellow prisoners, for his crime of being a poet, and so to excuse his guilt, he acts out the story of Don Quixote, his masterpiece. Quixote sees the good in everyone and everything, from the town working girl, Aldonza, played by Elizeth Brito, to the gypsies, thieves, and vagrants. 

The set design by Leif Smith is a magical feat in such a small space. It features a foreboding staircase that looms over the stage during the majority of the play, only to be used when calling a prisoner to an uncertain, but probably unsavory future. It serves as a constant reminder that hope is courageous in the face of war. The realistic touches of the stone floor and doorways create a space that can perfectly transition from a jail to cell to the Spanish countryside. In "I'm Only Thinking of Him," the three singers of a song sit as if in a priest's confessional, and the addition of the excellent lighting design and costume design almost make the actors look like an era-accurate Spanish painting. 

The orchestra is pared down to just an acoustic guitar player, a flutist, and a percussionist, who perform on stage alongside the actors. This move creates a more intimate setting and removes one more suspension of disbelief for the audience, by treating the musicians like characters. 

The play within a play, the fictionalized story of the delusional knight, Don Quixote, starts out as a joyous comedy and delves into darker issues that mirror the actors' fates. Rueck as Quixote radiates a star quality that carries the play through its emotional ups and downs. Brito as Aldonza, the hardened worker, has a voice in the play that is opposite to Rueck's and just as commanding, but absolutely heart-breaking when she needs it to be. 

An enthusiastic ensemble cast with high-quality dance and fight choreography brings a delightful sense of play and a graveness to the darker parts of the show. Gypsy dancing, subbing in for horses, and fending off attackers are all done with extreme precision to heighten the action. 

The play within a play features a timely message of weaponizing the power of fantasy to create a bolder, more magical reality. This should be a treat for anyone with a love for grand, sweeping Broadway-style musicals because even in a smaller space, the Man of La Mancha feels anything but small. 

Man of La Mancha, the classic musical by Dale Wasserman, Joe Darion and Mitch Leigh based on Miguel de Cervantes' tale, Don Quixote, is playing at Theatreworks New Milford now through January 5. This production is under the direction of Francis A. Daley of Danbury, CT, the musical director is Morgan Kelsey of Bethel, CT, and the choreographer is Sandra Hernandez of New Milford.  The scenic design is by Leif Smith and lighting design by Peter Petrino. The cast includes Fred Rueck, John Ponzini, Elizeth Brito, Roger Grace, Viv Berger, Morgana Watson, Peter Philip, Rob Pawlikowski, Marsha Prophet, Erin Walsh, Richard Chad Frey, Alex Vournazos, Nick Raines, and Lindsey Partelow.

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