London Coliseum – until 8 June 2019
Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Michael Linnit and Michael Grade bring Man of La Mancha back to London for the first time since 1968, and have thrown everything, including the kitchen sink, at this production to make it a success. Ultimately, there is nothing that can rescue this show from its awkward and dated book.
The story of Don Quixote is an old favourite, and writer David Wasserman has Miguel de Cervantes (Kelsey Grammar) and his faithful servant Sancho Panza (Peter Polycarpou) thrown into prison as they await their trial by the Spanish Inquisition. To stop the prisoners burning his precious manuscript, Cervantes mounts his defence in this informal court by enlisting the prisoners and performing the story of Don Quixote. The classic story of the delusional old man who believes himself a knight errant, tilting at windmills and wooing the virtuous Lady Dulcinea.
The set – apparently representing the bombed-out basement of a museum, and the costumes of the prisoners give the opening a futuristic dystopic vibe, which is a little confusing after the stirring overture from the ENO orchestra. I was expecting Snake Plissken to burst in at any moment. When the prisoners start putting on Cervantes’ costumes, the mood lightens and the show builds some momentum, but the lines the cast must work with are very hit and miss. Peter Polycarpou milks every bit of comedy and pathos from his role, and Nicholas Lyndhurst is terrific as the squiffy innkeeper, but even their acting chops can’t save the show. Kelsey Grammar has a fine voice but hasn’t the power or charisma to carry the show, seeming physically ill at ease as he moves around the stage. The role of Aldonza/Dulcinea is shared by Danielle de Niese and Cassidy Janson – I saw Janson and she gives a passionate and energetic performance, capturing the fatalism of Aldonza as she is used and abused by men until Don Quixote shows her honour and respect.
There are some odd choices that jar – the strange prison setting, the Muslim prisoner becoming the Padre, Janson as a Spanish serving girl with a strong Scottish accent, the inclusion of the overlong and frankly unnecessary “abduction” of Aldonza by the muleteers – basically gang rape as a ballet – and the casting of Grammar.
Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion’s music and lyrics are wonderful, full of flamenco rhythms and instantly familiar as so many artists have performed them over the years. The weakest link is the most famous song from the show – The Impossible Dream – it really doesn’t gel with the rest of the score, and Grammer’s delivery is frankly underwhelming (I went home and listened to the Carter USM version instead), although the final rendition by the prisoners reaches the levels of emotion needed.
This is definitely not a great musical – more of a curiosity – but the wonderful music carries the show along, and it is an enjoyable night out with some excellent performances.