Milwaukee Rep’s Magnificent “Man of La Mancha” Brings Us Into The Mind of Quixote
Reviewed by: Matthew Perta
I first saw Man of La Mancha back in 1997, when a touring show of the Tony Award-winning musical came to the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts in Milwaukee. The only things I can recall about that show were Robert Goulet’s fine performance as Miguel de Cervantes, the imprisoned author who’s gifted with a larger-than-life imagination, and of course, the show-stopping song, “The Impossible Dream.”
Fast forward to the present: On a rainy Sunday night I attended the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s season opener of Man of La Mancha in the Quadracci Powerhouse, and, thanks to a magnificent production directed by the Rep’s artistic director, Mark Clements, I got a refresher course that left an indelible print on my mind that lingered for hours after I left the theater.
The plot of Man of La Mancha, as written by Dale Wasserman, is unique in itself: a man in 16th century Spain, Miguel de Cervantes, is imprisoned by the Spanish Inquisition for a crime against the church. While in prison, Cervantes works out his defense by becoming the fictional character of his novel, Don Quixote, and, along with his right-hand man, the loyal-to-the-core Sancho Panza, convinces his fellow inmates to play along as he spins an uproarious tale of a knight who believes he can right all the wrongs in the world.
But, as I realized while watching Man of La Mancha unfold on the Rep’s quaint stage, the best way to experience this musical is to let the imagination of Don Quixote sweep you away, along with the show’s marvelous musical score, and in this case, that’s easy, thanks to a first-rate cast, a visually-stunning set design and amazing sound effects.
Broadway veteran and Milwaukee native Nathaniel Stampley rises to majestic heights with a towering performance as Cervantes and Don Quixote. Stampley’s rich, powerful singing voice makes “The Impossible Dream” a memorable highlight of this production. In his Rep debut Michael J. Farina is deliciously delightful as Cervantes’ servant Sancho Panza. Farina’s Broadway credits include Suessical the Musical. And another Broadway vet, Leenya Rideout, is superb as the outcast Aldonza, Cervantes’ fellow prisoner and the woman he envisions as the beautiful Dulcinea. Rideout, who performed in War Horse on Broadway, matches Stampley with a stunning singing voice.
Man of La Mancha marks the seventh musical staged in the Rep’s Quadracci Powerhouse by Clemens, whose previous triumphs at the Milwaukee Rep include Cabaret, Ragtime, The Color Purple and Dreamgirls. With this thunderous production Man of La Mancha Clemens has once again arisen to the challenge of bringing the best of Broadway to the intimacy of the Quadracci Powerhouse nestled in downtown Milwaukee.
When Don Quixote sings “The Impossible Dream,” he mentions this “glorious quest.” Exceptional acting, singing and stage design come together beautifully to make this Man of La Mancha a glorious quest, one that is likely to be remembered by Milwaukee Rep audiences for years to come.
According to a news release issued by the Milwaukee Repertory Theater,Man of La Mancha has already broken the box office record for the biggest show on sale in the history of its Quadracci Powerhouse – no doubt a testament to the musical’s enduring popularity with the public. Man of La Mancha runs through Oct. 30. Tickets can be purchased atwww.milwaukeerep.com, by phone at (414) 224-9490, or by visiting The Rep’s box office at 108 E. Wells St. in downtown Milwaukee.