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‘La Mancha’s’ idealism, execution merit standing applause

By JULIE McHALE - Post Theater Critic

September 29, 2016

 
       

Photo by Michael Brosilow

Nathaniel Stampley as Don Quixote, left, and Michael J. Farina as Sancho Panza, with cast, in the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s “Man of La Mancha.” 

AT A GLANCE
“Man of La Mancha”

The musical runs through Oct. 30 at the Milwaukee Rep, 108 E. Wells St., Milwaukee. Call 414-224-9490 or visit www.MilwaukeeRep.com.

MILWAUKEE - I didn’t think I’d ever experience a match for “Ragtime,” a recent musical produced by the Milwaukee Rep, but “Man of La Mancha” lives up to that level of excellence. It delivers two uninterrupted hours of  glorious, captivating and inspiring artistry.

Part of its success is due to the lead character so powerfully enacted by Nathaniel Stampley, a Milwaukee native, who attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has become a very reputable actor in New York, but many other actors, including Leenya Rideout (Aldonza), Jonathan Gillard Daly (Padre), Matt Daniels (Duke), Michael J. Farina (Sancho), Gavin Gregory (Pedro), and a host of other talented actors and singers make significant contributions to its overall splendor.

This musical continues to appeal to audiences because it gives us a message of hope, civility and nobility, qualities that are sometimes hard to sustain in a cynical world.

Music director Dan Kazemi worked melodic wonders with the talented cast and five-piece orchestra. Bethany Thomas begins the story with a moving rendition of “Prison Scene;” the main two numbers, “To Dream the Impossible Dream” and “Man of La Mancha” are both executed to perfection, and “Little Bird” is musically sweet and harmonious. Daly’s delivery of “To Each His Dulcinea” is beautiful.  I didn’t realize that Daly is such a good vocalist, along with all his other talents.

Rideout gives us a very spunky performance as Aldonza, the angry whore whom Quixote idealized. He eventually broke through her defensive armor with his touching “Dulcinea.” I also enjoyed Farina’s Sancho, who provides us with a more practical, realistic philosophy, and yet in his “I Really Like Him,” he has to admit that his master’s more romantic, quixotic style is refreshing and really quite appealing.

The time frame during the Spanish Inquisition, and the setting, a prison where a variety of people awaited trial and possible execution, is exquisitely realized with Jack Magaw’s creative set design and costume designer Alexander B. Tecoma’s authentic choices, which provides a feel for the period.

Surrounded by struggle and injustice, Cervantes weaves his story-within-a-story and brings light into the darkness and, helping us realize that our desire and our attempts to make a positive difference in the world, gives us value and radiates outward. We may ridicule idealists, but we sorely need them.

The audience literally burst out of their seats with exuberance and appreciation at the end. Thanks to director Mark Clements and his many cohorts that assembled this array of talented artists. It will long be remembered as a triumph for all the Rep’s fans.