By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
nobody expects songs
with the Spanish Inquisition
The provenance of La Mancha is more interesting than the show itself. It began as a nonmusical television drama written for CBS and starring Lee J. Cobb. Titled I, Don Quixote, the teleplay was optioned for Broadway and turned into a musical at the suggestion of director Albert Marre. The original lyricist was poet W.H. Auden, but his ideas were considered too satirical to be commercial, so they were dumped.
Man of La Mancha was supposed to star Rex Harrison when it debuted in 1964 at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut. But Harrison, who talk-sang his way to great acclaim in My Fair Lady, dropped out when he discovered how demanding the score would be. The musical finally made it to Broadway in November 1965 with Kiley in the leading role, playing more than 2,000 performances in a stripped-down, one-act production that in many ways presaged the operatic drear of later hits Les Miz and Phantom.
WaterTower sets its La Mancha on one of the most expansive and elaborate stage designs scenic artist Clare Floyd DeVries has ever fashioned for this theater. Thin beams of "sunlight" pierce the gloom of a two-stories-down subterranean dungeon hung with menacing lengths of chain and rope. The effect is wonderfully creepy (mostly thanks to Jason S. Foster's intricate lighting design), but the enormity of the space dwarfs actors who already have a hard time making their characters large enough to be noticed.
Sound problems plague the actors whose miked voices seem to emanate not from their bodies but from somewhere north of the Tollway. The band members, too eager perhaps to get to that third reprise of "The Impossible Dream," race each other and the singers tempo-wise.
Finally, it's not the job of a critic to make casting suggestions, but listening to the voice of Christopher J. Deaton, who plays the small roles of Scorpion and Pedro in La Mancha, I could hear in his warm baritone everything that could send that song soaring to the stratosphere. A newcomer to Dallas stages, Deaton was a knockout as the Wolf and Prince in WaterTower's Into the Woods. If he ever plays Quixote--and he should someday--the theater world will be better for this.