Arts & Culture

‘Mancha' main man brings show to life

What an unforgettable performance we in the audience enjoyed on opening night at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina's production of the Tony award-winning musical, "Man of La Mancha." Loaded with visual power and musically thrilling, the romantic fantasy was filled with passion, ambition, idealism and most of all, imagination.

The evening belonged to Gary Lindemann, as the classic character, three characters -- really, Don Quixote, Alonso Quijana and Miguel de Cervantes. What a voice, what an actor, what an insightful interpreter.

Every moment that Lindemann was on stage, as any one of his engaging personas, we were absorbed by his powerful presence, his clarity, warmth, precision, color and his unmistakable charisma. He brought "Man of La Mancha" to us with dazzling effect.

An enormously talented and dedicated cast, filled with professionals, gifted with dramatic high energy and musical polish, joined forces in this sumptuous production of this deeply imagined work.

Written by Dale Wasserman with music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion, "Man of La Mancha" was directed and choreographed by D.J. Salisbury with musical direction by Jeffrey Buchsbaum.

The single set, which was completely open to full view as we took our seats, was extraordinary -- so huge and expansive, so gray, so dusty. This was a prison, a dungeon with all of its attendant levels and surroundings. The original set was designed by Bob Phillips and adapted by Sabrinna Cox.

Inspired by the 17th century masterpiece of Miguel de Cervantes, with infusions of plot and detail from a television broadcast presented in 1965, "Man of La Mancha" is really a play within a play. The opening scene, in fact the entire production, is performed on the single set -- a prison in Seville at the end of the 16th century.

The Spanish Inquisition has cast Cervantes, a tax collector, soldier, actor, poet and writer, and his companion, Sancho Panza (Robert Anthony Jones), into the prison's common room. They've been accused of foreclosing on a church for not paying taxes.

The room is filled with all manner of scoundrels and thugs. We are introduced to these characters as they plot to take all of Cervantes' and Sancho Panza's worldly goods, by way of the outcome of a mock trial, as it turns out. Cervantes is only concerned about saving a package of wrapped papers, his treasured manuscript. As Cervantes begins his defense, he takes out a makeup kit and becomes Alonso Quijana, a distracted old man, right before our eyes. In moments he convinces the prisoners and others to take on the roles needed to make his story the more compelling.

Quijana, now calling himself Don Quixote de La Mancha, with Sancho Panza at his side, begin their quest, and set out to take on the world. The very first challenge, a swooping giant, turns out to be one of those legendary windmills so associated with Quixote. This is also the beginning of the music for which this work is known. Look forward to "Man of La Mancha" performed by Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.

Leenya Rideout, as Aldonza, Escalante and Dulcinea, surfaces in an impressive way, and we are taken by her energy, physicality and the convincing harshness which the role demands, all tempered by her dignity. Her dark vocals convey the nature of her character.

It is Don Quixote's "Dulcinea," with Maria (Evangelia Kingsley), Fermia (Delia Grace) and the Muleteers, that begins to draw us even further into the levels of the piece, and to the truly outstanding musical quality of their performances.

Jeff Raab arrives on the scene as the Barber, wearing his basin on his head to protect himself from the sun's rays. Poor Quixote believes him to be wearing the Golden Helmet of Mambrino, which he believes will heal all wounds -- if the wearer is noble. Then follows the vocal ensemble's interpretation of "Golden Helmet" as the two are joined by Sancho Panza and the Muleteers in another of those "down to your toes" vocal offerings. It is also then that Quixote's issue of nobility surfaces and will determine his course of action toward becoming a knight -- or fulfilling the role of the "mad knight" of the famous novel.

Don Quixote keeps us tightly in our seats when finally he offers "The Impossible Dream." We have all been anticipating that moment when we first heard his absolutely magnificent voice much earlier on.

Don Quixote's quest continues in the second act, as we hear the "Impossible Dream" reprise and are totally treated to "The Dubbing" with The Innkeeper (Lew Lloyd) and "Knight of the Woeful Countenance," with the chorus joining Lloyd. Prepare yourself for the visual impact of "Knight of the Mirrors." It absorbs on all levels, and the events that it brings about will change the direction of the play within the play, once more.

Possibly one of the most moving scenes comes as we witness the transformation of Quijana, whose grasp on reality is even more tenuous, following his response to what he now perceives as hopelessness and his need to retreat from life. Lindemann, again, is extraordinary.

Equally remarkable for other reasons, are the moments when Aldonza offers "Dulcinea," Don Quixote reprises "The Impossible Dream" and the company comes together for the finale. We know that the manuscript is restored to Cervantes, and the tale of Don Quixote will live on as we watch as Cervantes is called before the Inquisition.