Man of La Mancha: the classic Broadway musical now at Westport Country Playhouse

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Philip Hernandez as Don Quixote

The dramatic and stirring Broadway classic Man of La Mancha has returned to the stage at the Westport Country Playhouse in Westport Ct.   This beautifully staged production at the Playhouse is true Broadway quality in every way.  This is a brilliant show that cannot be missed.

Man of La Mancha is a musical inspired by the story of Miguel de Cervantes imprisonment during the Spanish Inquisition and is also inspired by his book Don Quixote written in 1615.  The musical adaptation places Cervantes in a dungeon prison awaiting his hearing for charges brought against him by the inquisition.   Cervantes is a self described poet and play write, as well as a tax collector.  His latter position and his act of taxing  a church has placed him in prison.  His fellow prisoners upon meeting Cervantes and his loyal sidekick decide to have their own “mock trial” and seize his manuscript.  The show is staged in the prison “commons” as the prisoners await trial.  The curtains open to steel bars separating the actors from the sold out audience.  The set is dramatic in both design and lighting and sets the mood for the evening.

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Cervantes demands the opportunity to defend himself before his fellow prisoners and using his skills as an actor and a trunk full of costumes and props, he launches into a virtual “play within the play”.  Along with his sidekick Sancho, the other prisoners become part of this story woven by Cervantes.  Cervantes spins the tale of a noble knight  on a noble quest, and he becomes Don Quixote, Man of La Mancha.   Despite living in an era of fear and despair, Quixote is a dreamer.  He dreams of a world where knights still roam spreading virtue and morals, performing noble quests and coming to the aid of their Lady.  He exclaims he has seen and experienced the misery and tragedy in life, but he rather instead find the beauty and the goodness in life.

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Gisela Adisa as Aldonza/Dulcinea

Quixote is a idealist and a dreamer and the audience (as it has been since its Broadway debut in the 1960s) becomes a fan of Quixote. His idealism for a simpler  and kinder world is in stark contrast to the reality of 16th Century Spain.  Indeed his spirit and  ideals are what attract so many current audience members .

His idealism is manifested brilliantly in the song “The Impossible Dream” which is the hallmark of the evening.  The song is instantly familiar to many, and yet it is so fresh and relevant today.

Philip Hernandez  is masterful in the role Cervantes/Don Quixote (only actor in Broadway history to play both Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert in “Les Misérables”; original Broadway casts of “Kiss of the Spider Woman” and Paul Simon’s “The Capeman”)  He has a wonderful  deep voice that filled the playhouse on opening night.  A brilliant and memorable performance.

Gisela Adisa as Aldonza/Dulcinea (Broadway’s “Beautiful,” First National Tour of “Sister Act,” regional theater’s “Lights Out:  Nat King Cole” – 2018 Barrymore Award nomination) is wonderful  in her dual role.    Tony Manna play Sancho Panza  the side kick and faithful companion to Don Quixote(Off-Broadway’s “These Paper Bullets,” “Timon of Athens,” “The Hasty Heart”; Netflix’ “Maniac”).   He brings to the role a sort of humor and warmth to which the audience enjoyed.

This production of Man of La Mancha  is directed by Mark Lamos who has directed  many plays at Westport Country Playhouse since 2008.  His extensive New York credits include “Our Country’s Good,” for which he received a Tony Award nomination. A former artistic director at Hartford Stage, he earned the 1989 Tony Award for the theater’s body of work.   His direction of this production is mostly faithful to the original, but injects  a modern vibe with the costumes of some of the cast as well as a reference in the dialogue to our current political climate that was recognized by the audience.

This is one of  the great Broadway musicals of all time.  Its story is timeless and quite relevant in the world we now live.  Make sure you see this wonderful show.

For tickets and information:  http://www.westportplayhouse.org

Westport Country Playhouse

25 Powers Ct Westport Ct.

Box office at (203) 227-4177, toll-free at 1-888-927-7529,

 

 

 

The Understudy: a behind the scenes stage comedy now at Westport Country Playhouse

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A very funny play set backstage at a Broadway theater has opened  at the Westport Country Playhouse in Westport Ct.  “The Understudy” written by award winning playwright Theresa Rebeck  is  a clever and very funny comedy that brought laughter and much applause from the opening night audience.  It recently ran off Broadway.

The play opens with a bang as Harry (Eric Bryant) runs down the aisle of the theater and leaps on stage and reminds the audience to silence their cell phones.  We learn quickly he is not a member of the theater but rather an actor and the show has abruptly started even though the stage curtain is still closed.  An effective way of getting the full attention of the audience.

This comedy takes place during practice on a Broadway stage for a serious play based on the works of German novelist Franz Kafka.  As the actors practice their lines, the audience is treated to a play within a play, with the seriousness of the Kafka story contrasting with the comedy of the main play itself.  The Understudy employs three actors, Harry who is the journeyman understudy looking for his big break, Jake (Brett Dalton) who is a movie actor and mid level action film star, and Roxanne (Andrea Sglowski) , a former actress now stage manager whose job during the play is to run this practice.  She has the task of  keeping Jake and Harry from fighting (as Harry dislikes a B  movie actor taking on serious Broadway roles).  Jake has no love for Harry as he sees him unfit to understudy for a “star” like himself.    Jake too is obsessed as to why he is not receiving big dollar contracts for movies and not the $2 million a film he currently  is paid.

We also find that Roxanne and Harry were once engaged and she has no idea he has been cast as the understudy as he has adopted a new name.  That tension and Harry’s constant absurd comments about changing the lines further send the practice into disarray.  Throw into the mix Laura, the stage board operator (unseen during the show) who is stoned and keeps screwing up the sound, lighting and the sets.  This only adds to the calamity on stage.   The play gives the audience a look into the world backstage at a Broadway production and all the issues that arrive that give angst to those in the production, but comedy for the viewer.

Interesting is the playwrights commentary on the current state of American theater.  Instead of staging plays and musicals of integrity, the public and the theater industry itself is obsessed with celebrity and profits , with many plum roles in the theater going to big name movie stars instead of seasoned actors.  This commentary is worthy and timely considering some of the shows making it to the stage today.  A very funny play with great acting, a thoughtful clever script and excellent direction by David Kennedy.

The play runs  one and a half hours and is fast paced and has no intermission.  The play runs through September 1, 2018.

for tickets and information

https://www.westportplayhouse.org

Westport Country Playhouse

25 Powers Court   Westport Ct.

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