photo by Emma Palmer

TU Theatre’s “Man of La Mancha” a smash hit

The show dazzles with emotional highs, a tight cast and great production value.

The TU Theatre Department has knocked it out of the park with their performance of Dale Wasserman’s “Man of La Mancha.” Directed by Machele Miller Dill with musical director James Gregory, the show contains a great amount of heart and some earworms of songs. From cast to set to music, the whole show is a gem.

Based on Miguel de Cervantes’s classic novel “Don Quixote,” “Man of La Mancha” follows a fictionalized version of Cervantes, who has been thrown into a prison during the Spanish Inquisition and is awaiting trial. While in the prison, he is scrutinized by his fellow prisoners and relates the story of ingenious nobleman Don Quixote as his defense.

“Man of La Mancha” is very much an ensemble piece, and the TU Theatre Department pulls it together with an all-star cast. Tyler McCoy brings an ernest brevity to Cervantes and an empathy to the mad Don Quixote, while Kara VonWyl is excellent as the tragic Aldonza.

The standout performance of the show is Michael Flake as the Don Quixote’s squire Sancho Panza. Flake’s comedic timing and affable performance were responsible for most of my laughs during the show, and he completely steals the scene in his song “I Like Him.” The trio of Muleteers, played by Evan Moorehead, Nicholas Mueller and Martin Van Stipdonk, are a fun bunch as well. Their three-part harmonies were wonderful and added to the liveliness of the show.

photo by Emma Palmer

The set design by Diana Steverson is simple and effective, conjuring the feeling of a dungeon with minimal structure needed. The crowning piece, a giant staircase that is suspended in the air, acts as an isolator for the prisoners. It looms ominously throughout the entirety of the show and becomes impressive communicator of a set piece. Along with the stage itself, the props for the show are notably creative — in particular, Don Quixote and Sancho’s pedal-driven horses.

The costuming by Crista Patrick and Faith Greenhagen is stellar, making each character easily readable and identifiable (and those inquisition guards! I want to dress like that). During the Don Quixote segments of the show, the characters wear masks in the style of commedia dell’arte theatre. While this works well on the whole, accentuating the caricature nature of one-note characters, it was rather distracting in the case of McCoy’s Don Quixote. It felt like something was lost by having the main character wear a mask that completely obstructs the face.

The pacing of the show is quite nice. Running at about an hour and 40 minutes, the show has no intermission but doesn’t feel too long. The plot of the story and the song breaks are well interspersed. The cast does an impeccable job of balancing the tragedy with the comedy, allowing it to ring emotionally true.

I would be remiss to not mention the wonderful music in the show. The live band, led by Gregory, is on point rhythm-wise, and for the most part, the cast does a great job with balancing harmonies and singing in key. “Knight of the Woeful Countenance” and “Golden Helmet of Mambrino” were particularly fun highlights. The songs themselves are all very catchy. I left the theatre humming along.

You can see “Man of La Mancha” this week. Remaining performances are on the 25th, 26th, and 27th and begin promptly at 8:00 p.m. The black box theater in Kendall Hall only holds 72 seats, so make sure to reserve your seats in advance! You don’t want to miss this one.

Post Author: Emma Palmer