“the real star of the show, is Danielle De Niese …her voice soars and enchants with a lilting sweetness and strength”
Man of La Mancha is set in a Detention Centre and begins with the arrival of two new prisoners, Cervantes and his manservant. They have a trunk with them, and the inmates are keen to plunder it. The Governor, played by Nicholas Lyndhurst, wants to put Cervantes on trial and confiscate his belongings if he is found guilty, and Cervantes makes his defence in the form of a play; Don Quixote. The Don tilts at windmills and falls in courtly love with Aldonza, a serving girl and part time prostitute in a roadside inn, who he sees as a perfect woman and names his Lady Duncinea. Cervantes casts the other inmates in various roles, and the Governor plays the innkeeper, giving Lyndhurst the opportunity to switch from forbidding to gently incompetent, which he does with skill and evident enjoyment. Cervantes’ manservant and Don Quixote’s squire Sancho Panza are played by Peter Polycarpou, and he is one of the show’s delights. He is funny and touching in his devotion to the eccentric knight, and to his ‘real’ master.
The other delight, and the real star of the show, is Danielle De Niese who plays Aldonza/Dulcinea. She is fiery, strong and vulnerable, angry at Quixote’s refusal to see her for who she really is, coping with the rough muleteers in the inn, who eventually brutalise her, and very touching at the end when she accepts the name Dulcinea for the first time and starts the spine tinglingly beautiful cast version of The Impossible Dream. Her voice soars and enchants with a lilting sweetness and strength, and her acting is powerful and compelling.
It is Kelsey Grammer’s misfortune to be surrounded by a cast of hugely talented singers. His Cervantes/Quixote is engaging and hugely characterful; on the acting front he doesn’t put a foot wrong, but his voice doesn’t stand up well against virtuoso talent such as De Niese. His rendition of ‘Dulcinea’ felt insecure and in his solo ‘Impossible Dream’ he seemed to be bracing himself for the top notes. When the muleteers sing ‘Little Bird’ it is evident that there are some fabulous voices in the ensemble; this is a very strong cast. Emanuel Alba deserves a mention for his lovely comic turn as the barber, and Eugene McCoy’s Duke has a nice touch of the Lucius Malfoys when we first see him.
As you would expect of the Coliseum, the set, lighting and sound, by James Noone, Rick Fisher and Mick Potter respectively, are superb. Rebecca Howell is the choreographer, and she has created some exceptional work, such as the electrifying gypsy dance, for this piece. Fight Director Kate Waters produced a lovely comedy fracas at the inn, and Fotini Dimou’s costume design allows for some impressively quick changes and helps create a convincing world within Noone’s set.
The story of Don Quixote is a love song to the imagination and Man of La Mancha takes us into a double world. Do we prefer the reality or the fantasy? Each of us has to decide for ourselves, but Quixote’s fantasy world has a purity and beauty that entices and enchants.
“The performances marvellously capture all the aspects of love that the libretto tries to convey”
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Aspects of Love” was met with a mixed reception when first written and produced in the eighties, and it is indeed one of his more curious affairs. Its own meandering inception and evolution seems to match the rather convoluted plot, based on the autobiography of David Garnett, Virginia Woolf’s nephew. Originally mooted as a film for which Webber and Tim Rice were to contribute some songs, it morphed into an unrealised collaborative cabaret with Trevor Nunn at the helm, before lyricists Don Black and Charles Hart came on board to help steer the vessel in some sort of definite direction. Sandwiched between “Phantom of the Opera” and “Sunset Boulevard” it probably suffered from a lack of focus and some have said it lost its way.
Katie Lipson has untangled the rigging in this revival, first produced last summer at the Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester, and put it well and truly back on track; also showing us that there is more to this musical than the hit song, “Love Changes Everything”. For there are some truly striking melodies which, by stripping the accompaniment back to just two pianos and percussion, are now allowed to shine through the otherwise lumbering sung-through dialogue.
The story begins with the character of Alex (Felix Mosse) who is looking back over his life. It then flashes back to 1947 when he fell in love with Rose Vibert (Kelly Price), the star of a touring acting company. The young Alex convinces the older actress to spend two weeks with him at his Uncle George’s unoccupied estate. When Uncle George (Jerome Pradon) returns unexpectantly and finds himself attracted to Rose, the complications begin. Complications not just for the characters within the story though; but for the producers too. The trick now is how to keep the audience engaged as the characters canoodle their way through the doodling plot, occasionally thrown off kilter by sudden shifts in time.
But Lipson has the Midas Touch when it comes to musical theatre and has once again assembled an impressively strong cast. The performances marvellously capture all the aspects of love that the libretto tries to convey. Jonathan O’Boyle’s confident direction allows the detail to be seen through the myriad scene and time changes. And if you don’t really care for the plot you certainly care about the characters.
Despite the heavy-handed feel of the piano accompaniment (which some tweaking on the sound desk could quickly cure) the vocal performances are beautiful and searingly moving. Mosse’s intimate yet unsentimental rendition of ‘Love Changes Everything’ is a delightful detour from the original, but the highlights of the show include Price’s heart rending ‘Anything But Lonely’ and Pradon’s understated opening to the Ivor Novello tinged ‘The First Man You Remember’.
But beyond this central love triangle is where the interest really lies. Madalena Alberto, as the free-loving Giulietta is compellingly watchable; Eleanor Walsh, as the fifteen-year-old Jenny, gives an assuredly mature performance that eschews the uncomfortable Lolita-style caricature that is often associated with the role. And Minal Patel, as actor manager Marcel, softly steals the smaller stage time he is allowed with his velvet voice.
It is a tricky show that explores perhaps too many variations on the theme of love. But it seems that this intelligent cast has picked one aspect, made it their own, and let it shine. Like the diamond in the mire, this clear-cut production lets the emotion glisten.