Man of La Mancha

Anthony Velez, Gabe Belyeu and Maya Cuevas star as Sancho, Quixote and Aldonza in Mac-Haydn’s production of Man of La Mancha. Original photo by Ann Kielbasa.
Just 5 noteworthy differences between this show and July’s production by Opera Saratoga!

By Andrew Andrews

Based loosely on one of the greatest novels of all time, Man of LaMancha tells the story of Don Quixote, a 17th Century Spanish nobleman who reads so many books about chivalry that he loses his mind and decides to roam the countryside as a knight errant.

Quixote employs Sancho, a peasant neighbor, to assume the role of his squire, and the two embark on a series of misadventures that always leave the duo much the worse for wear.

In the original novel, Sancho's tell-it-like-it-is nature often had me in stitches, but the musical depicts him as a more subdued sidekick, trading much of the novel's comedy for a more dramatic tale.

Having just seen Opera Saratoga's production of La Mancha in July, and being impressed by Mac-Haydn's recent performance of She Loves Me, I was very interested in seeing how the two versions would compare.

Here are the five differences that made an impression:

  1. Intimacy: The sprawling amphitheater at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center provides for a grand experience, but Mac-Haydn's smaller theater and thrust stage creates a much stronger feeling of intimacy. Even though I greatly enjoyed the performance at SPAC, the smaller production was more successful at drawing me into the story and the minds of its characters.
  2. Expense: Of course, the privilege of supporting a large, prestigious opera company comes at a price. The best available seats in Chatham cost lest than half of those in Saratoga, and given the previously-mentioned greater intimacy, I’d argue that all of the seats at this venue deliver a more engaging experience than the best seats at that one.
  3. Completeness: The Saratoga version inexplicably excluded a key scene in which the unfortunate duo are accosted by a band of thieves, leaving us confused as to what happened to their rides and purses. Fortunately, Mac-Haydn left that scene intact, allowing us to benefit from the full story.
  4. Style: In my opinion, Man of La Mancha’s strength is in its musical numbers. As you would expect from a prominent opera company, the output from Opera Saratoga is of the highest caliber. By comparison, the vocals at Mac-Haydn were very inconsistent: some numbers sounded like arias; others more like karaoke singers. Knight of the Woeful Countenance, in particular, made me feel a lot more woeful than was probably intended!
  5. Social Distancing: Not only did July’s amphitheater ticketing provide the opportunity to sit away from other patrons—even the cast of the musical stayed six feet apart throughout the performance. At this show, the masked and fully-vaccinated audience sits—for better or worse—nearly as on top of each other as the actors are on stage.

If you’re a fan of Cervantes’ The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, you’ll likely be at least a little disappointed by any performance of Man of La Mancha, just as fans of any novel typically find the movie release to be less-than-satisfying.

If you’ve never read the classic tale, I highly recommend Edith Grossman’s English translation of Don Quixote as one of the funniest novels ever written—but be sure to check out Mac-Haydn’s production of the musical first—you’re more likely to enjoy both works if you experience them in that order.

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Andrew Andrews attended Man of La Mancha at Mac-Haydn Theatre in Chatham on Thursday, August 26, 2021 @ 8:00pm to write this review.

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