There’s a few weeks left to enjoy Granite Theatre’s take on the epic musical Man of La Mancha, originally released in 1965 with a book by Dale Wasserman, lyrics by Joe Darion, and music by Mitch Leigh.
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In the late 16th-century, failed author-soldier-actor and tax collector Miguel de Cervantes has been thrown into a dungeon by the Spanish Inquisition, along with his loyal protege. They have been charged with foreclosing on a monastery. Their fellow prisoners initially attack them, eager to steal the contents of the large trunk Cervantes has brought with him. However, a morbidly curious inmate who commands the others respect and goes by the name of “the Governor” suggests setting up a mock trial instead.
Perhaps the Governor thinks that trying the case of someone else (even worse off than themselves) will make the inmates, all of whom seem to have little to no chance of ever escaping their dungeon, feel some level of power or control over their own fates. The deal is that only if Cervantes is found guilty in the mock trial will he have to hand over his possessions. Then, a cynical prisoner, known as “the Duke,” charges Cervantes with being an idealist and a bad poet. Cervantes pleads guilty but then asks if he may offer a defense, in the form of a play, to be acted out by him and all the prisoners. The Governor agrees.
The musical version is adapted from Wasserman’s non-musical 1959 teleplay “I, Don Quixote,” which was in turn inspired by Miguel de Cervantes and his 17th-century novel Don Quixote. The epic story of the mad knight Don Quixote is not intended to be a truthful rendition of either Cervantes’ life or Don Quixote.
Even those who are not familiar with the musical, have likely heard its signature song “The Impossible Dream,” which has been covered by Frank Sinatra and Elvis among others. Throughout the show, the song becomes the contagious mantra of Cervantes, who escapes from his otherwise terrible reality of recent imprisonment through the joy of his imagination. Along the way, he takes his fellow prisoners, and us as the audience, along with us.
Robert Grady plays the dual role of Miguel de Cervantes as well as Cervantes as Don Quixote — with a certain strength in his vocal quality and dedication to character. Ever the optimist, to the point of delusion, de Cervantes on some level probably realizes his destiny is not likely to be a good one, but he refuses to let the shadow of what he cannot control darken his disposition. Like the father in the film “Life is Beautiful” released some 35 years later, de Cervantes is a hero of – and for – optimism, even in the face of bleakness.
Granite newcomer George Sanchez plays Don Quixote’s loyal buddy Sancho Panza with a charm uniquely his own and has several moments to shine, as does many performers in this huge cast.
The set and costumes are all top-notch but, as the night wore on, a few theatergoers around me, as well as myself, seated towards the back of the theater could be overheard complaining of uneven sound levels between the performers vocals and the musical instruments providing accompaniment, and many lyrics were sadly lost on us. Certainly not the fault of the performers, but this issue with the audio levels should be addressed sooner than later and, for those familiar with Granite’s season this past year, the new audio system has become a ongoing issue with less than perfect results.
Despite this unfortunate technical issue, Granite Theater’s Man of La Mancha is an impressive and powerful experience, indeed.
Man of La Mancha will continue at the Granite through November 10. Get tickets here.