Thursday, July 11, 2013

A Welcome Return to La Mancha

William Michals, with hair

A Welcome Return to La Mancha

By Skip Sheffield

La Mancha is a land I can visit again and again and never grow tired of it.
My latest visit was opening night of “Man of La Mancha,” which runs through July 21 at Palm Beach Dramaworks, 201 Clematis St., West Palm Beach.
This is a stripped-down, readers’ theater concert-style production of the venerable musical that debuted on Broadway in 1965 and has been revived there four times. Just because there are no elaborate set pieces and not all performers are off-book does not make this production any less moving.
Guest director Clive Cholerton, former artistic director of Caldwell Theatre, has chosen his cast well. It is anchored by Broadway veteran William Michals, who obvious knows the show like the back of his hand. Michals has a stirring baritone voice and a sensitive approach to his character of Miguel De Cervantes/Don Quixote, an aging man who is considered mad by most, or at least delusional, and dangerous by the dark forces of the Spanish Inquisition.
As Dale Wasserman’s book presents the story as a play-within-a-play, it is fascinating to see Michals change before our eyes. A 16th century failed author, soldier, actor and tax collector transforms into Alonso Quijana, aka the fabled knight-errant, Don Quixote, with just a little makeup, wig and facial hair.
South Florida favorite Oscar Cheda provides heartwarming support as Cervante’s loyal-to-a-fault companion, Sancho Panza.
The role of scullery maid and woman of easy virtue Aldonza, whom Quixote imagines to be the spotless maiden Dulcinea, is a showcase and a challenge to any woman. Alix Paige, who is from this area but has played the role on Broadway, is equally convincing as the sardonic Aldonza and the baffled but flattered Dulcinea.
All of the actors have dual roles: Ken Clement as the Governor and the innkeeper; Barry Tarello as the Duke and a padre; Nick Duckart as Pedro and a house keeper; Rodrigo De la Rose as Dr. Carrasco and a Knight; Cassandra Zepetia as Antonia and a gypsy; Joshua Grosso as Anselmo and a Captain, and doing triple duty, Leah Sessa as Maria, an itinerant barber and a gypsy. Part of the fun is watching actors change roles with a minimum of fuss.
Oh and by the way, the voices are beautiful and befitting Mitch Leigh’s music we have all come to know and love. Who cannot be stirred by “The Impossible Dream” or moved by the delicate, passionate “Dulcinea?” Care is paid to the lesser-known songs too: the ironic “I’m Only Thinking of Him,” the mournful “Little Bird,” the lusty “Golden Helmet of Mambrino.” Kudos to musical director Caryl Ginsberg Fantel.
Finding beauty within stark prison walls by the sheer power of imagination is the magic of “Man of La Mancha.” You have but a brief time, through July 21, to be transported by this magic.
Tickets are $35 ($10 students). Call 561-514-4042 or visit

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