Westchester Broadway Theatre Reaches for the Stars With Its New Production of Man of La Mancha By Barbara Solomon Josselsohn
March 23, 2016 It would appear to be a difficult – or dare I say, impossible – musical to pull off: The stage is often dark and bare, the characters are largely downtrodden or tragic, and the specter of death is a constant. Yet for the dreamer inside us all who clings to the hope of a better world to come, Man of La Mancha is a glorious show – and the production that recently opened at Westchester Broadway Theater is a powerful rendition that makes for a highly memorable evening.
The musical is based on Miguel de Cervantes’ book The Adventures of Don Quixote, which was published in 1615. As the musical opens, the character of Cervantes has been arrested by the Spanish Inquisition and thrown into a dungeon. The other prisoners gang up on him, and to defend himself, he transforms himself into Don Quixote, a delusional dreamer, and begins to put on a play. He engages the other prisoners as performers, and the action alternates between the colorful world of Don Quixote and the stark world of the prison.
Of course, the real star of Man of La Mancha is its rich, beautiful score, and many of its songs have gone on to be classics. The lovely ballad “Dulcinea” rivals “Maria” from West Side Story as the quintessential ode to romantic love, while the upbeat “I Really Like Him” is a lighthearted yet meaningful take on friendship. The showstopper “The Impossible Dream,” which celebrates those who try to “reach the unreachable star,” is a stunning endorsement of hope and struggle, even in the face of certain defeat.
The WBT production hits all the right notes, so to speak, in both staging and casting. Gary Marachek is earnest and devoted as Sancho Panza, Don Quixote’s faithful squire, while Michelle Dawson is luminous as Dulcinea, the object of Quixote’s affection. Paul Schoeffler, in the lead role, is charismatic, and his voice is strong and assured. His transformations on stage from Cervantes to Quixote and back again are enthralling, and they remind the audience of the elevating power of theater and the exceptional craft of acting.
Man of La Mancha continues through May 1. For more information call the box office at 914-592-222 or visit www.BroadwayTheatre.com.
An Impressive Show Boat Sets Sail At Westchester Broadway Theater By Barbara Solomon Josselsohn
November 4, 2015 They had me at “Ol’ Man River.”
Actually they had me far earlier, the talented cast of actors, singers, and dancers now bringing the lovely tunes and serious themes of the 1927 musical Show Boat to the stage of Westchester Broadway Theater. But it’s the moving rendition of “Ol’ Man River,” sung in the first scene with power and emotion by Michael James Leslie in the role of Joe, which proves this is a production not to be missed.
With music by Jerome Kern and a book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, Show Boat was a groundbreaking musical in its day. Based on the Edna Ferber novel of the same name, it spans nearly 50 years in time, following the triumphs and sorrows of three generations of a show biz family and the people with whom they surround themselves. At times funny and high-spirited, Show Boat also explores heavyweight themes, such as financial hardship, parental and spousal abandonment, and racism. “It was the first time that serious black and white characters held the stage together as equals,” writes WBT’s Pia Haas in the production’s program. “It was the first integrated musical where black and white performers appeared and sang on stage together.”
But history aside, Show Boat is filled with beautiful, transcendent songs, and the current production does justice to the wide range of styles and emotions encompassed in the music. Bonnie Fraser, as Magnolia, and John Preator, as Ravenal, join together in lovely renditions of “Only Make Believe” and “Why Do I Love You?” while Sarah Hanlon, as Julie, leads others in a jubilant performance of “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man.” Inga Ballard is a joy as Queenie, and her duet with Mr. Leslie, “I Still Suits Me,” is a showstopper. And, of course, the multiple reprises of “Ol’ Man River” never get old.
Also worthy of mention are two couples that provides pitch-perfect comic relief: Jamie Ross and Karen Murphy as Captain Andy and his wife, Parthy, the patriarch and matriarch of the show boat; and Amanda Pulcini as Ellie and Daniel Scott Walton as Frank, two supporting players on the boat with big personalities.
Outstanding, too, is the ensemble’s riveting dance number in Act II, which uses colorful costumes and changing dance styles to convey the passage of time.
Show Boat runs through November 29, and then resumes on December 30 through January 31. For more information call the box office at 914-592-222 or visit www.BroadwayTheatre.com.