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Posted June 11, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Musical is a study in contrasts

Tom Simpson appears in a scene from "Man of La Mancha"
Tom Simpson appears in a scene from "Man of La Mancha," on stage at the Wayside Theatre through July 4. Courtesy photo


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By John Horan Jr. -- jhoran@nvdaily.com

MIDDLETOWN -- Gritty realism and soaring idealism are starkly contrasted in Wayside Theatre's compelling musical, "Man of La Mancha."

The reality is embodied by the cramped, dingy set, a jail cell crammed with luckless souls waiting to be interrogated by the Spanish Inquisition. They are a rough rabble, unimpressed by the most recent additions, Miguel de Cervantes and his manservant.

The noble aspirations arise from the story Cervantes spins about Don Quixote and his chivalrous quest for truth and beauty in a flawed world. His quixotic (yes, that's where the word comes from) drive is encapsulated in "The Impossible Dream," the best-known song from the show.

Director Warner Crocker crafts an enthralling production, full of raw energy and distinctive characterizations and ideally suited to the tight confines of the Wayside space. The band, an assemblage of prisoners at the back of the set, capably handles the strong, uplifting score by Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion while playing an unusual variety of instruments -- guitar, clarinet, flute, drums -- that evoke the music of Spain.

In the title role Tom Simpson offers a full-blooded portrayal, both imposing as the author Cervantes and intensely engaged as Quixote, whose imaginary world ventures into madness. Simpson convincingly throws himself into the various travails that befall Quixote, tilting fiercely at windmills and rapscallions while holding firm to his noble ideals and illusions that turn a common serving wench into the paragon of femininity. His sonorous bass voice is ideally suited to the music.

Nancy O'Bryan is equally convincing as the fiery Aldonza who, transformed by Quixote's pipe dreams, becomes his sweet Dulcinea.

R. Scott Williams is Quixote's trusty servant, Sancho Panza, and among the sturdy ensemble, who play multiple roles, David Sucharski is notable as the padre.

Till Turner's claustrophobic set, replete with a plank that creaks ominously when beckoning prisoners to be interrogated, conjures the gloomy aura of a Goya painting. Paul M. Callahan's darkish lighting adds to the dreary ambiance.

Tamara M. Carruthers' costumes run the gamut, from rich nobility to scruffy garb for the inmates.

Review

  • "Man of La Mancha"
  • By Dale Wasserman
  • Directed by Warner Crocker
  • Continuing at Wayside Theatre until July 4
  • Box office: 869-1776.
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