Review ~ 'I, Don Quixote' at WAMS

Nancy Sasso Janis

Man of La Mancha: A Decca Broadway Original Cast Album (Original 1965 Broadway Cast)

'I, Don Quixote' is a non-musical play written for television by Dale Wasserman for the Dupont Show in 1959 that has almost exactly the same plot and even much of the same dialogue as the subsequent 1965 musical adaptation ' Man of La Mancha,', all based upon the Cervantes Masterpiece written in 1605. The students at Waterbury Arts Magnet School (WAMS) will be presenting the play with some added music this weekend on the school's Apron Stage under the direction of the indomitable theatre teacher Nina Smith and her student director Annie Scheuermann. I was invited to attend their final dress rehearsal and was very impressed with the production values and the talent of the young actors.

Ms. Smith writes in her note that she "always looks towards the modern connect for students" as well as herself. What has been done with this production to make it relevant is give it "a nod to today." The director makes the analogy for modern audience regarding this production as follows: "Cervantes is to Stan Lee as Alonso Quijano is to Peter Parker as Don Quixote is to Spider Man."

The students worked together as a tight ensemble, with lots of physical onstage combat and general rowdiness in the prison scenes. The costumes have a seventies flair in the filmed scenes and the prison uniforms more of a scrubs vibe. Mirna Hanna constructed Aldonza's costume and faculty member Nancy Muro made the Knight of Mirrors ensemble. Tattoo Artists (with Sharpies) are Emma Walsh and Brock Sanford. My theater kid chose "24601" to appear on his arm.

This production includes a whopping 17 students in their debut performances at WAMS, but if I didn't read it in the program, I never would have guessed. I loved the addition of the music that included some songs from the musical score of 'Man of La Mancha'  and two lovely original compositions by student Aly Gonzalez (Aldonza)entitled "You Don't Know" and "Warrior's Cry. Performances will include student lobby musicians, pre-show house music recorded by students and one on-stage musician named CJ Janis on guitar. I enjoyed the quartet of young men singing "The Impossible Dream" and a choral number sung by most of the young ladies.

I loved the dancing that was choreographed by Saira Muhammed. The opening number set in the prison is full of energy and lots of taunting. The scenery encompasses much of the Apron Stage and allows the middle school students to write on the floor of the stage with chalk. The lighting designed by the Assistant Director adds so much to the scenes and the technical aspects were almost perfect. Ms. Smith's use of the entire house brings the audience into the action.

Chris Briney plays the three leading roles of Cervantes/Don Quixote/Alonso Quijana. Mr. Briney has appeared in many WAMS productions and has an inordinate amount of lines to master for the multiple roles. As his sidekick Sancho, Ryan Rinaldi has a great sense of comic timing. Cole Schmidt is commanding as The Duke/Dr. Carrasco. Ally Gonzalez plays the Escalante/Aldonza/Dulcinea with heart.

Shannaya Rodriguez plays the Mother Bane/Housekeeper, Gianna Viele appears as Antonia/Angel. Noemi Meca of Naugatuck sang beautifully as Graciosa and the innkeepers wife Maria. Michael Stevens plays El Medico and the Barber. Andre Goire covers Lobillo/Tenorio and Naugatuck's Liam Aldredge stays combative as prisoner The Scorpion and Pedro. Christian 'C.J.' Janis, also of Naugatuck, brings humor to the role of Judas Macabeo and piety to the role of Padre.

Samantha Gilbert is a Gypsy Child/Dancer/Shepherd. Tyler Nizzardo is Cervantes Horse (with a broomstick) and a clown. David Padilla serves as Sancho's Horse and Andres. Jordan Vaughn is a jailer and muleteer. Darnel Roundtree is the menacing Capt. of the Inquisition and a muleteer. Enis Arlin plays Jose/Demon/Attendant, Justin Ramos is a Muleteer/Attendant, and Lilliana Lopez and Brianna Crespo are Prison Guards/Prisoners. Gypsy Dancers include Arisa Caraballo, Shelby Griffin, Xhoela Alicokli and Saira Muhammed. Ms. Muhammed also plays Death and Ms. Lopez plays Love in a scene as Don Q falls into madness.

There were several errors in the bios in the preview copies of the program, so I apologize if I inadvertently copied any of them. The three performances will include one 15 minute intermission. HAZE is used periodically throughout the show and the content and action is rated PG. Performances are Friday March 27 at 7:00pm, Saturday March 28 at 2:00pm, and Saturday March 28 at 7:00pm. Tickets are $5 for students and $8 for adults.

Photos: Members of the cast of 'I, Don Quixote' at WAMS Photos by Nina Smith