Wednesday, 1 May 2019

REVIEW: Man of La Mancha at the London Coliseum

It says an awful lot when a show hasn’t been seen in London for over 50 years, which is the case with the English National Opera’s latest production, Man of La Mancha.

Michael Linnit and Michael Grade mention in their programme notes that they consider the piece to be on par with West Side Story, My Fair Ladyand the works of Rodgers and Hammerstein, but I just don’t see it. Despite the sensational talents of the orchestra, Mitch Leigh’s score doesn’t thrill, and its famous “The Impossible Dream” fails to enthrall on both occasions; Kelsey Grammer’s Act I finale, and the full company reprise that closes the show. It should be electrifying, but something is missing.

When Miguel de Cervantes (Kelsey Grammer) is imprisoned – we frustratingly never out much about his crimes – he brings with him a trunk filled with paraphernalia from his apparently wonderful career as an entertainer, plus the unfinished manuscript for his novel Don Quixote. As his fellow inmates attempt to steal his belongings, Cervantes offers them a performance, and subsequently plays out said novel in the role of Alonso Quijana/Don Quixote.

With such an varied and impressive catalogue of work behind him, including a wonderful performance in Big Fish at The Other Palace in 2017, it is disappointing to now see Grammer in a role so reminiscent of his television alter ego Frasier Crane; an hysterical man, born (if sometimes forceful) leader and occasion snob. It feels at times as if we are watching a musical episode of Frasier, rather than the beginnings of Don Quixote. I wonder if different choices, both by Grammer himself and director Lonny Price, would have resulted in a more genuine performance.

Mina Patel gives a pleasing performance as Padre, with moments of wit in “We’re Only Thinking of Him”, and the complete contrast of his haunting “To Each His Dulcinea”. There is also wonderful work from Peter Polycarpou as Cervantes’/Quijana’s right hand man. Both Patel and Polycarpou benefit from some of the better material, and provide relief and excitement in a score that is largely unmemorable.

Opera star Danielle de Niese gives a brilliant performance with “What Does He Want of Me?”. Her soprano lends itself to this score beautifully, although it rarely offers her the chance to take flight, leaving us wanting more. The exception is with “Dulcinea (Reprise)” which thrills, albeit briefly.

There are so many shows in the musical theatre repertoire with similar themes of hope and strength that deliver in a way that Man of La Manchadoes not. Having loved Price’s acclaimed production of Sunset Boulevard, it is clear that Man of La Manchais flawed piece, rather than a flawed effort.

Review by Ian Marshall 

Rating: ★★★

Seat: D/C E10 | Price of Ticket: £77.25
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