Man of La Mancha at the Coliseum
The musical Man of La Mancha hits the London Coliseum after a 50 year struggle to bring it to the West End – the big question is, has the struggle been worth it?
Man of La Mancha takes the format of a play within a play. Cervantes is a story teller and is thrust into prison during the Spanish Inquisition. In order to save his manuscript he tells the prisoners the story of Don Quixote, a mad knight. I went into the show only really knowing the one big song ‘The Impossible Dream’ so with a very open mind.
Unfortunately there is a reason this show is rarely staged, the plot often drags and some themes, such as the mistreatment of Aldonza a prostitute and Don Quixote’s lady, are on brink of saturation.
The design of the show is undoubtedly beautiful however it caused coherence problems. Prisoners were dressed in modern day clothes and the set features a large descending metal staircase yet when the prisoners engaged in the play they all stepped back in time. It made it hard to therefore see a link between the play the play within a play – it could have been anyone telling this tale and the relevance to the Spanish Inquisition was lost.
As an audience member I therefore struggled to discreetly distil the true message of the show, it seemed to be about the power of the imagination but with tweaks and some severe cuts this could have been portrayed more powerfully.
Whilst the plot is problematic the show saving grace is the beautiful orchestration including new orchestration for this production by conductor David White. The ENO’s orchestra swell to fill the Coliseum and the unusual sound of Spanish guitars really bring flavour and a sense of location to the piece.
My favourite musical moments in the show were delivered by smaller parts, I particularly enjoyed the harmonies delivered by Cervantes (Kelsey Grammer), Anselmo (Stephen John Davis), Pedro (David Seadon-Young) and the ensemble in ‘Little Bird Little Bird,’ and the comedy between Antonia (Lucy St Lewis), Carasco (Eugene McCoy), Padre (Minal Patel) and Housekeep (Julie Jupp) in ‘I’m Only Thinking of Him.’ Emanuel Alba also has a show stealing moment as the Barber in his number ‘Barber’s Song’ in a genuinely funny moment.
The star casting in this show is two fold. Firstly Kelsey Grammer as Cervantes/Don Quixote. He is very likeable and has an easy charm about him. For many of the numbers he gets away with having a decent voice due to his ability to act through song but in ‘The Impossible Dream,’ I was left wanting more, a bigger richer sound to do justice to the iconic song in such an iconic venue.
The second big name is Nicholas Lyndhurst who played The Governor/The Innkeeper. Whilst the drunken Innkeeper is much more his stereotypical casting I enjoyed him as the stern Governor presiding over everyone.
Stealing the show for me however was Peter Polycarpou as Cervantes’ manservant/Sancho Panza (Don Quixote’s squire) who did the best with the dusty script of injecting some well timed humour into proceedings. Danielle de Niese took on the role of Aldonza/Dulcinea whose stunning vocals rang clear across the auditorium however her dramatic moments were hampered by plot points such as her attack and rape not given the depth or darkness it deserved.
Man of La Mancha is a show that may have worked well 50 years ago but despite a beautifully played score and some solid performances from both the ensemble and leading cast members this production of Man Of La Mancha needs some trimming and thematic clarity.
Man of La Mancha is running at the London Coliseum until June 8th. To find out more about the show and to book tickets visit the ENO’s website.