Man of La Mancha charactrerized by vapid fragility, also it stinks

It’s been a decade since the theatre’s most beloved feckless knight melted audiences’ hearts. The latest revival of “The Man of La Mancha,” the first not to star Richard Kiley (who originated the role), is a case of casting discordance. The new production, starring Tony Award-winner Brian Stokes Mitchell and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, is another example of what can go wrong with an odd couple.

The show, based on Miguel de Cervantes’ burlesque novel of chivalry and imagination, tells parallel stories about Cervantes and his creation. The writer, stuck in a prison during the Spanish Inquisition, unfurls his plea before a jury in the form of fiction. But this “Man of la Mancha” is devoid of any romance and fight.

Monumentally miscast is the gifted leading man of the musical theatre, Brian Stokes Mitchell. The master baritone, with dashing good looks and the sweep and swagger of yesteryear Hollywood, seems to be working against his every instinct. His legs wobble under his muscular form, and he swings a sword like a child struggling with a 12-pounder at the other end of a fishing pole.

Mastrantonio, as Aldonza, searches desperately for her character, leaving a vapid, fragile presence onstage. She has a trained voice, demonstrated by her middling vibrato, but her tone wanders around each note before settling down on proper pitch. Primarily a film actress, she is famous for playing strong, scruffy women with big hearts and personalities. But she is swallowed by the stage and is sluggish in her dances.

For all the thrashing about, the clanging of chains, the dangling from gallows, the guttural bellowing by the cast, the production has almost no personality to speak of. It’s cause for disenchanted furrowing of brows.

Don Quixote pontificates about the importance of imagination early on, but “Man of La Mancha” does not follow its own advice. Only at the start are we allowed to peek into the workings of Quixote’s mind, thanks to Paul Gallo’s inventive lighting scheme.

The estimable team involved are all worthy of individual appreciation, and I’ll gladly see their work when they’re in their element. But to watch “Man of la Mancha” again, I would have to be forced at sword-point.

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