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'Man of La Mancha' extended

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John Fredo and John N. Kaczorowski star as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza in MusicalFare Theatre's production of "Man of La Mancha." Photo courtesy MusicalFare Theatre. 

MusicalFare Theatre's edgy production of "Man of La Mancha," the musical based on Cervantes' "Don Quixote," has been extended for two performances, the theater announced today.

Because of audience demand, the theater will tack on two matinee performances on Dec. 5 at 4 p.m. and Dec. 6 at 2 p.m. My review of the musical is pasted after the jump.

-Colin Dabkowski


REVIEW

★★★

WHAT: “Man of La Mancha”

WHEN: Through Nov. 29

WHERE: MusicalFare Theatre, 4380 Main St., Amherst

TICKETS: $32 to $36

INFO: 839-8540 or www.musicalfare.com



Glorious quest

‘Man of La Mancha’ mixes a punk look for conceptual twist

If the timeless story of Don Quixote de la Mancha could be reduced to one simple lesson, it might sound something like this: You can’t keep a good imagination down.

That lesson applies just as well to MusicalFare Theatre Artistic Director Randall Kramer, whose new and boldly imaginative production of “Man of La Mancha” opened in the Amherst theater Wednesday night.If the timeless story of Don Quixote de la Mancha could be reduced to one simple lesson, it might sound something like this: You can’t keep a good imagination down.

The cast of the beloved show, a musical adaptation of Miguel de Cervantes’ seminal novel and an exploration of one of literature’s most enduring characters, resembles nothing so much as a spritely array of Adam Lamberts, fresh with eyeliner, black hair dye and matching punk rock attitudes from the “American Idol” dressing room. Their costumes, sleeveless shirts and comically baggy black pants lined with huge pockets, zippers and metal holes, seem to come not so much from the hills of La Mancha as the shelves of Hot Topic.

Combine that with the dark nature of the show and its subterranean setting in what looks to be a disused scrap-metal warehouse, and you have a musical that threatens at any moment to break out into a rave. Sancho Panza (John Kaczorowski) actually has a faux-hawk. The only missing elements are glowsticks and pacifiers.

And, oh, did I mention that the actors play their own instruments?

Admittedly, this concept might have seemed fresher a decade ago, when the Goth aesthetic was a mere teenager. But Kramer and his gifted cast and production team should be commended for the daring concept, which manages to blow the dust off this creaky classic and invigorate it with new life.

The show is based on Cervantes’ 17th century novel “The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote of La Mancha.” For those who skipped out on that particular high school English class, it tells the tale of an aging man, Alonso Quixano (John Fredo), who becomes convinced that he is in fact a knight-errant and embarks on an epic quest with his loyal but dimwitted squire, Sancho Panza. The musical begins in a holding cell, where Cervantes himself awaits trial before the Spanish Inquisition. To put off the malicious intent of his fellow prisoners, he acts out the story of Don Quixote.

For this “La Mancha,” Kramer has adopted a conceit popularized on Broadway by the British director John Doyle, whose productions of “Sweeney Todd” and “Company” featured actors playing their own instruments in lieu of an off-stage band. In the right situation, this approach can produce a hyper-contained narrative in which every element of the production binds to the central concept like glue.

In this case, the glue holds. Music director and pianist Theresa Quinn, who plays the housekeeper, expertly arranged Mitch Leigh’s score for a peculiar collection of instruments: Viola, accordion, cello, saxophone, clarinet, piano and guitars. These happen to be the particular musical strengths of the cast members, and they work together with a sort of rough-edged effectiveness.

As Cervantes and Don Quixote, Fredo delivers an excellent performance, his booming voice never faltering on songs like “The Impossible Dream,” his expert comic timing never failing when needed. MusicalFare newcomer John Kaczorowski is charming and a gifted comedian as our post-emo Sancho, though he might need a few more performances to settle into the role. As Aldozna (or Dulcinea), Lisa Ludwig comes up short in the vocal department but acts her role so well we hardly care about the occasional impossible note. Ernie Insana, with a voice not unlike Elvis Costello’s, turns in a great vocal and guitar performance.

Kudos as well to set designer Chris Schenk, who has stepped up his usual work a notch for this production’s rusty basement, costume designers Loraine O’Donnell and Olivia Ebsary, who did indeed scour the racks at Hot Topic for inspiration, and lighting and sound designer Chris Cavanagh for completing the daring look and feel of the show.•

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