Man of La Mancha Review

The Plot

Thrown into a brutal prison at the height of the Spanish inquisition, a man pleads his case to his fellow prisoners in a unique way, by performing the whimsical tale of peasant man who dreams of being a mythical knight called Don Quixote, seeing the world in strange and wondrous ways.

The Good

Kelsey Grammer is an unassuming Hollywood star much beloved for his decades of work on screen. His enduring success and much beloved status is thanks to the unique gravel voiced charisma he possesses. He is simultaneously able to be bombastically pompous and sincerely subtle, the result being an authentically captivating stage presence. Those talents helped make him a household name playing the truly iconic character of Dr Frasier Crane for many decades and they make him a similarly perfect fit for this role. Much like Kelsey’s iconic alter ego Frasier, Don Quixote possesses an abundantly optimistic and kind hearted spirit. It’s an inspiring and deeply admirably trait, especially in the face of life’s cruellest adversities and disappointments. People who enjoy that aspect of Grammer’s on screen person will find it a special delight to witness it first hand on stage.

While Kelsey Grammer is well known for his acting talents, audience may be curious about just how powerful his singing gifts are, especially in the face of needing to deliver a powerhouse ballad like Dream The Impossible Dream. It’s a pleasure to be able to report that Grammer’s commanding voice stretches beyond the mere talent required to sing the memorable Fraiser theme song. There is a rich warmth and powerful depth to Grammer’s singing voice which is totally equal to his familiar spoken charms.

Alongside Grammer’s charismatic Don Quixote the production find able support from the vocal talents of Danielle De Niese and the comedic gifts of much beloved comedic treasure Nicholas Lyndhurst. Special mention must also be made of Peter Polycarpou playing Grammer’s faithful manservant Sancho Panza, his unwavering support for the ever deluded don is critical in keeping audiences similarly committed to following him on his mad quest.

Beyond the many acting talents on display the production offer audiences a rare chance to see one of the greatest songs in musical theatre delivered on London’s finest stage. The Impossible Dream is a piece of music that is both instantly memorable and poignantly true. Both times the production deploys it there is a genuinely uplifting effect on an audience. It has been over 50 years since audiences even in the West End had the privilege to see it performed in its original context and doing so enhances the meaning far more than any number of karaoke renditions.

The Bad

While Don Quixote is a character synonymous with eternal optimism and whimsical self-delusion, it’s perhaps important to warn that this production sharply contrast that joyous escapism with some very harsh realities. Don Quixote may invite us all to chase adventure and do heroic battle with dragons or giants, but this is somewhat cruelly juxtaposed with genuine moments of tragedy and violence. Even if the production ultimately steers back towards hopefulness audiences may find at least one sequence of authentic violence and cruelty difficult to forget.

As a play within a play, the lines between fiction and reality are often a little blurred and the story admittedly exists on many different levels. However, at least one of those levels is a little nasty in tone at times. Obviously that is the entire point of the show that our perceptions of life are as cruel or as kind as we allow them to be. But again, for more sensitive audiences they may find it harder to enjoy the unhinged optimism of Don Quixote when it is so sharply undercut by a bleak and somewhat savage reality.

In a similar fashion while ‘The impossible dream’ is a truly perfect musical standard, obviously it’s quite difficult for the productions other less familiar songs to compare alongside this unsurpassably iconic and crowd pleasing ballad. So while that one amazing song is obviously a major asset for the production it does set impossibly high standards for the rest of the score.

The Ugly Truth

Kelsey Grammer is a beloved acting icon who is uniquely equipped to breathe life into the heroically delusional Don Quixote. Surrounded by a solid supporting cast and armed with a song as iconic as The Impossible Dream, it’s hard not to be won over by his boundless charms. Even if the production does have admittedly darker tones at times than might suit some tastes, it remains a joy to behold Kelsey’s inspiring Don Quixote soaring above those moments. With a tantalisingly short run of only 6 weeks those who want to enjoy this quest should take the chance swiftly…

Review by Russell Nelson


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