MAN OF LA MANCHA The Musical: London's Coliseum Theatre
Kelsey Grammer, Peter Polycarpou and Danielle de Niese photo Manuel Harlan

Michael Linnit has pressed for four years the return of Man of La Mancha since last it played here some 50 years ago and is now the project of Michael Grade and Michael Linnit, the production team that brought Sweeny Todd, Carousel, Sunset Boulevard and Chess to London's Coliseum. Most remembered for its iconic song, 'The Impossible Dream' Man of La Mancha is inspired by Dale Wasserman's Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote. Featuring a strong cast whichincludes Kelsey Grammer, Peter Polycarpus, Danielle de Niese,Nicholas Lyndhurst and Cassidy Janson, this Tony award musical is playing at the London venue from 26 April 2019 until 8 June 2019.

Quick Synopsis: it is 16th century Spain and we are in the grim dungeons where Miguel de Cervantes and his servant are awaiting trial by the Inquisition. In the grimy cellar that is their dungeon there is a pecking order, an established hierarchy of the longer serving prisoners who set upon the hapless duo. In his trunk, Cervantes has his unfinished novel 'Don Quixote' and to protect it from those who are keen to attack him, he prepares his defence by acting out the role of Alonso Quijano who, in his delusion, believes himself to be a knight errant named Don Quixote de la Mancha,who has set off on a fantastical quest with his manservant Sancho Panza. And this is a basic premise to this tale. 'When life itself seems lunatic who knows where madness lies? Too much sanity may be madness and maddest of all is to see life as it is and not what it ought to be.'

Director Lonny Price has held to the original but has also made an attempt to bring it more into the 21st century by costuming the cast in trainers and giving the baddies,ie the prison governor and the inquisitor black leather clothes, supposedly to make them appear more sinister? This seemed unnecessary and I am not convinced it added anything to the production. The set itself is a dungeon interior with walls spattered with graffiti but is too reliant on lighting to create the illusion of the windmill and the mirrors of the Knight of the Mirrors and a hydraulic platform for the inquisitors. This too was disappointing as I believe the impact of the windmill should have been far stronger and, frankly, if you were distracted for a moment you would have missed the effect.

So did the production team achieve their impossible dream? Their objective was that the audience leave the theatre inspired. That like our knight errant we too can be honourable  and do the right thing: 'to fight for the right without question or cause'. We may not always follow the safe and obvious path but we should not be scared to dream, to have our 'Dulcinea' moment. Sadly I don't think it quite hit the mark.

Certainly Kelsey Grammer (Miguel de Cervantes/Alonso Quijana/Don Quixote) was a strong lead. His voice carried effectively and he gallantly embraced his role. However, timing was slow and reduced the impact of his character. Similarly he was too often off stage and his absence was felt. With his loyal manservant, Sancho Panza (Peter Polycarpou) they made a striking pair with great potential but again I felt that Polycarpou was restrained from giving his role more and I am sure he would have relished the opportunity to do so. Danielle de Niese (Adonzo/Dulcinea) was majestic. Her voice soared and she immersed herself entirely in her role. We did not doubt the tragedy that was her life and the hope for self-worth inspired by Quixote. In his role as governor/innkeeper, Nicholas Lyndhurst enjoyed some comic moments but these were short lived and stilted at points.

In all the production lacked pace. Too often it felt 2-dimensional with silences that begged to be filled. The cast in general were keen in their roles but the ensemble was frequently redundant,idling on the sidelines. Interestingly this underused group brought energy and zest when they performed their ensemble songs or dances and gave life to this rather flat production.

But full praise to the ENO orchestra, directed with energy and fun by David White. They were outstanding and I loved the percussion (in particular the castanets) which created the Spanish feel.

This is a musical that might have won previous awards but today feels outdated and may not enjoy the success of the previous musicals that the production team has brought to the Coliseum. Nevertheless, the memory of Kelsey Grammer's superb rendition at the end of Act I of 'The Impossible Dream' will stay with me for a long time to come and I hope that the production team continue to bring to the London stage those successful musicals of bygone eras.

(note: the role of Adonzo/Dulcinea is played by Cassidy Janson at some performances)

Man of La Mancha
London Coliseum, St Martin's Lane, London WC2N 4ES
Dates: 26 April - 8 June 2019
Performances: Mon-Sat 7.30 pm. Matinees Wed & Sat 2.30 pm.
Tickets from £15.Box office 020 7845 9300

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