Not seen in the West End since 1968, producer Michael Linnit’s glorious quest to fulfil his impossible dream of bringing The Man of La Mancha to the London Coliseum has been fulfilled. Three years it took for Linnet and his producing partner Michael Grade to win the trust of the copyright holders, so that they would give permission to stage the show. Was it worth the wait?
The musical tells the story of Miguel de Cervantes’ imprisonment by the Spanish Inquisition along with his manservant, and their efforts to save Cervantes’ unfinished manuscript from the other prisoners by staging a play, with incarcerated gang as the players. The play-within-the-play is the rousing tale of an older man who’s delusions convince him that he is a Knight Errant in world of four-armed giants (in reality windmills) and lords in castles (innkeepers in inns). Along with his faithful and enabling manservant, Sancho Panza, he longs to be knighted officially. On the way to fulfilling this, tries to convince the serving girl at the inn that she is in fact his true highborn lady despite all evidence to the contrary.
The cast is an eclectic one, sitcom stars from both sides of the Atlantic in Kelsey Grammar (Cervantes/Don Quixote) and Nicholas Lyndhurst (The Govenor/The Innkeeper) giving mind to the Frasier/Only Fools and Horses mash-up you didn’t know you wanted. Grammar is in capable voice here, just about meeting the demanding challenge of the standard The Impossible Dream, and Lyndhurst shines in his dual role of the stern Governor and the drunk, cheerful Innkeeper. The role of the serving girl Aldonza/Dulcinea is shared across the run between Danielle de Niese and Cassidy Janson and it was Janson who was on duty this night. She gives a commanding, lively performance, though the character in involved in a scene that might go some way to explain why the show wasn’t revised sooner, an uncomfortable dance number suggesting at the very least sexual assault by a group of drunk men.
There are a few other elements that show the musical’s age; a scene where Quixote and Panza are tricked and robbed by a gang of dancing gypsies felt a little out of step, and the lines in Panza’s comedic song about him and his wife’s domestic abuse antics were met with stony silence in the theatre.
The soundtrack is dominated by The Impossible Dream, and it’s reprised twice, but the other songs are stirring and hold their own. I found myself humming the dynamic title track when I got home rather than the more famous tune. The novelty of the casting and brightness of the music made the biggest impression on me, though be warned that the show is not without its darker elements, some intended and others not.
The Man of La Mancha is on until 8 June https://www.eno.org/whats-on/man-of-la-mancha/