Review: "Man of La Mancha" at Westport Country Playhouse

From left, Tony Manna as Sancho Panza, Philip Hernandez as Don Quixote, and Gisela Adisa as Aldonza in “Man of La Mancha." Photo by Carol Rosegg

From left, Tony Manna as Sancho Panza, Philip Hernandez as Don Quixote, and Gisela Adisa as Aldonza in “Man of La Mancha." Photo by Carol Rosegg

Tara Kennedy

  • Chief Connecticut Theatre Critic

  • Connecticut Critics Circle / ATCA

Inspired by the Miguel de Cervantes’ literary masterpiece, Don Quixote, Westport Country Playhouse brings us the classic musical, Man of La Mancha. It tells the story of a man, Alonso Quijano, who is convinced that he is “Don Quixote de la Mancha,” a determined and valiant knight-errant. The tale is told as a play-within-a-play by Cervantes himself, as part of a mock trial of the prisoners he is detained with, waiting to be questioned by the Spanish Inquisition.  Truth be told, I am not a fan of “old-school” musicals, but this production feels contemporary thanks to its choreography, staging, and casting. 

It was lovely to see a cast made up of people of color; since this a story that takes place in Spain, those with Hispanic roots should be playing the roles in this tale. Philip Hernandez is the epitome of Don Quixote; earnest and idyllic, he perfectly embodies the leading role. His uplifting baritone as he sings, “The Impossible Dream” is inspirational, and given our current political climate, it is a welcome beacon of optimism.  Tony Manna’s Sancho is lighthearted and fun, although the vocal part seemed to be a bit out of reach for him in places; to be fair, it is an extremely high part for any man to sing. Gisela Adisa’s portrayal of Aldonza is complex and brooding, with glimpses behind her steely exterior, especially during “What Does He Want of Me.” Her vocal style is less traditional, but that does not detract from her performance.    

I enjoyed the sparring ladies and their animated antics during their duet, “I’m Only Thinking of Him,” where Alonso’s niece, Antonia (Paola Hernandez) and his housekeeper (Lulu Picart), claim in the church confessional to be the most worried about Alonso (spoiler: neither of them are that altruistic). And Mr. Encinias’ effortless tenor is perfection in his “To Each His Dulcinea.”  

I appreciated the energetic choreography and musical staging by Marcos Santana; his choreography provided a modern feel to the musical (a la Andy Blankenbuehler/ Hamilton) without being anachronistic. The dancing in the attack scene in Act II is especially moving; it’s difficult to make assault look like art, but Santana does it and the performers execute it well. Director Mark Lamos doesn’t miss an opportunity for a political message in the show’s final tableau: as the prison bars fall and the stone walls are lifted away, the remaining image is reminiscent of immigrant refugees, jailed at the border. 

The set design by Wilson Chin is stark and impressive. The use of cell bars to comprise set pieces such as the church confessional maintained the improvisational feel to the show, since it is meant to be just that. The drawbridge staircase that came from above and led downward into the prison cell was effective in adding suspense when the Inquisition officers would enter the scene. The set provides the dark background reminiscent of the times with glorious pops of color from the costumes and props.

Overall, Westport Country Playhouse has produced another successful traditional musical that is revived and beautifully staged.