Forth Worth — It’s clear where director Adam Adolfo wants to go with his 50th anniversary take on Man of La Mancha at Artes de la Rosa in the Rose Marine Theater—but does he get there? The production is carried by strong lead performances and some fine acting, with gorgeous singing from Martin Antonio Guerra (as Cervantes/Don Quixote), Sarah Powell (as Aldonza/Dulcinea) and several others in smaller roles. And Adolfo’s concept—to move the setting from a 17th century prison of the Spanish Inquisition and into the mad world of modern warfare, PTSD and mental institutions—is intriguing, even admirable.
But there’s so much going on: cracks of gunfire, the cries of soldiers, the electric hum of shock therapy, the whirr of Miss Saigon-style helicopters, not to mention a surfeit of modern-dress interpretive dance.
Adolfo’s choices are bold, but at several crucial moments, Miguel de Cervantes’ story of an individual man who stands fast against cruelty and conformity—looking for life “as it ought to be”—well, it gets more than a little lost in the crowded panorama onstage.
Of course, audiences often come looking for a different show altogether, one that matches the uplifting melody of the show’s mega-hit, “The Impossible Dream.” Man of La Mancha has always been darker than most of us remember: after all, the ex-soldier Cervantes and the other inmates are waiting to be questioned by “Inquisitors” who can sentence them to death. It isn’t a big step from that to setting the show in a mental ward and surrounding it with stories of modern-day warriors suffering in mind and spirit. Adolfo’s gritty update certainly honors the mood and intent of the original—music by Mitch Leigh, lyrics by Joe Darion, script by Dale Wasserman—and celebrates the musical’s first 50 years as an American musical theater classic. But he’s trying to add too many layers, too many competing sights and sounds—and the results are decidedly mixed.
Guerra’s moving performance anchors everything; he’s a strong, soldierly presence with a voice to match—and in Powell, he has someone who stands up to him in vocal finesse and power. Guerra was last seen in Artes’ In the Heights and in The Most Happy Fella at Lyric Stage. Powell, who trained as an opera singer, is making her debut at Artes de la Rosa; she’s been seen in Lyric Stage’s The Golden Apple, The Human Comedy and other shows.
David Goza is a spirited Sancho; Malcolm Beaty brings his reliably lovely tenor to the role of the Padre; and both Jason Solis as the Barber and Brittany Adelstein as Antonia have fine vocal moments. Bradley Gray’s modern set design—cold, mottled-gray panels broken by a metal doorway and an “observation window” on the inmates—is effective. And Maegan Marie Stewart’s choreography is well done and well danced. The fact that it sometimes distracts mightily from the story—most annoyingly as two dancers take center stage for “The Impossible Dream” while Guerra and his song are crowded into a corner—isn’t the fault of the choreographer.
Continuing the show’s military theme, Artes de la Rosa’s “Art for Armed Forces” effort is offering free tickets to anyone now serving in the armed forces, and to reservists, veterans and military retirees.