30 April 2019 (released)
03 May 2019
This little performed musical written by Dale Wasserman in 1965 and based on Cervantes novel, Don Quixote (1605 – 1615) is best known for two numbers; the title tune, ‘Man of La Mancha’ and ‘The Impossible Dream.’ If you don’t like ‘The Impossible Dream’, you may be in trouble as it runs through the show like a river, bursting out at every significant moment before returning to the orchestration to simmer. Like Sunset Boulevard last year, the production is a collaboration between the ENO and commercial producers, who were probably the brains behind casting international star, Kelsey Grammer (Frasier) as Cervantes and Don Quixote.
The lights come up on a dark and gloomy set with huge, metal steps that grind into life when the inquisition calls, leading only up to death or down to prison. Cervantes is thrown into this cavernous cell full of criminals lurking around braziers in the darkness. The other inmates, led by Nicholas Lyndhurst in an ominous black mac, decide to put the author on trial, charged with being ‘an idealist, a bad poet and an honest man’. If he loses, he hands over his belongings; a trunk of props and costumes as well as his copy of the novel, ‘Don Quixote’.
So begins his telling of ‘Don Quixote’ with Cervantes taking the title role and the prisoners taking on the other characters (Nicholas Lyndhurst becomes a doddering drunken Inn Keeper). There is a confusing mix of fact and fiction here as Cervantes who did in fact spend time in prison, famously wrote Don Quixote there rather than arriving with it. But that would have been even more complicated to dramatise and as ‘facts are the enemy of truth’, who are we to quibble.
Kelsey Grammer is a bumbling, gentle giant of a Don Quixote with Peter Polycarpou as a funny and devoted right hand man. Too much sanity may be madness is a very appealing philosophy – for the Knight errant a windmill is a giant, the Inn a castle and the abused tavern-girl Donatella (played by Danielle de Niese or Cassidy Janson), a virginal beauty. But of course this escape into fantasy can only end in tragedy. There is a familiar sense of a much loved grandfather with Alzheimer’s in Grammers convincing portrayal.
Mitch Leigh’s pseudo-Hispanic score does not have many surprises and on the huge stage of the Coliseum, the production moves forward at a fairly sedentary pace. However what Lonny Price’s production lacks in creativity, it makes up for in clarity and we are left with plenty of palatable philosophical nuggets to enjoy and an uplifting rendition of ‘The Impossible Dream’ sung acapella by the whole company. If only the show offered more opportunities to enjoy this extraordinary sound.
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