Review: Man Of La Mancha (Squabbalogic Independent Music Theatre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Sydney NSW), Feb 25 – Mar 21, 2015
Book: Dale Wasserman
Lyrics: Joe Darion
Music: Mitch Leigh
Director: Jay James-Moody
Cast: Stephen Anderson, Marika Aubrey, Hayden Barltrop, Reece Budin, Ross Chisari, Laurence Coy, Paul Geddes, Courtney Glass, Brendan Hay, Glenn Hill, Jay James-Moody, Rob Johnson, Shondelle Pratt, Kyle Sapsford, Tony Sheldon, Joanna Weinberg, Richard Woodhouse
Images by Michael Francis

Theatre review
Optimism and delusion can sometimes be different sides of the same coin. In an often dreadful world, having only a realistic mindset can be a debilitating existence. Hope is essential for moving forward, and at certain points in life, the only thing that we can cling to. The darker the days, the braver the dreams, and against the backdrop of the Spanish Inquisition, Man Of La Mancha features perhaps the most idealist of all literary characters, Don Quixote.

Jay James-Moody’s direction of the work is dark and desolate. The pessimism underlying the protagonist’s fantastical imaginings overwhelms the stage, and while melancholia can be a beautiful thing, it can also be oppressive. The production is polished and slick, and nothing much seems to be out of place, but the lack of a joyful energy makes for a show that feels monotonous, even though it bears a warm sincerity that can become very moving at crucial points.

Tony Sheldon’s rendition of the principal song “The Impossible Dream” is perfectly delivered, and he shows us what it is that makes a star. Sheldon’s performance is perhaps not sufficiently effervescent in earlier sequences, and the tone of the show is set too grave too early, but the depth that he brings to the role is more than anyone can hope to glean from a commercial musical, and his ability to create quiet moments of profundity is a thing to behold. In the role of Aldonza is Marika Aubrey who provides a much needed vibrancy to the music with her very bright timbre, but her acting does not reach the level of authenticity necessary for her narrative to engage. Much is made of Aldonza’s struggle for goodness, but we never quite believe that story.

More compelling is Ross Chisari whose impressive disciplines in voice and movement stand him in good stead, for a dependably charming performance as Don Quixote’s squire Sancho Panza. Chisari also serves as choreographer, and his work on that front is equally accomplished. The cast is moved around the stage with meaning and ease, and his efforts at creating colour from gestures and tableau are subtle but highly effective. The creatives do a solid job on the production, making this the best looking show from Squabbalogic thus far. Brendan Hay’s costumes, Simon Greer’s set and Benjamin Brockman’s lights are transportative and aesthetically sophisticated, and even though they are unable to inject greater buoyancy into the dramatics, they achieve great success with its visual imagery.

The dark is meaningless without light. Man Of La Mancha is lovingly crafted, but it does not communicate with enough fluency. It needs to be punchier, with greater dynamic range, so that our emotions can fluctuate with its story. The plot is written so that we come to a powerful conclusion, but what we feel does not match closely enough to what is seen unfolding on the stage. The artists here have dared to dream, and that is important, for as long as the brave lead the way, the rest can follow.