REVIEW: Jeff McCarthy Illuminates a Darker, More Visceral “Man of La Mancha” [Berkshire on Stage]

L to R: Sean MacLaughlin, Rosalie Burke, Jeff McCarthy, Tom Alan Robbins, Todd Horman
L to R: Sean MacLaughlin, Rosalie Burke, Jeff McCarthy, Tom Alan Robbins, Todd Horman (photo: Kevin Sprague)

Theater review by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray

Gail M. Burns: Director Julianne Boyd has picked the perfect musical to coincide with the tenth anniversary of Barrington Stage Company’s move to Pittsfield. Man of La Mancha is an American musical classic that packs a big story into a small package and proves the perfect star vehicle for Artistic Associate Jeff McCarthy, who has been playing this role on various stages for the past six years. McCarthy has had a long and successful association with BSC since its early days staging shows at Mt. Everett Regional High School.

Larry Murray: Hard to believe it’s been 50 years since I first saw this audience pleaser with Richard Kiley in the lead role. It played for 2,328 performances in New York and won five Tony Awards including Best Musical. Under Boyd’s direction it is both intimate and spectacular as it engulfs you with its magic and imagination. Richard Kiley wowed them in the original, but it’s clear that Jeff McCarthy redefines the role for any who follow him. And right up there with him are the incredible Tom Alan Robbins as his sidekick Sancho Panza, Felicia Boswell as Aldonza and Ed Dixon as The Innkeeper. The cast – including the Muleteers who helped him tell his story – was well nigh perfect.

Gail: I was all of eight when Man of La Mancha opened in New York, but my parents bought the cast album, and I quickly memorized the score and started begging to see the show. It took them five years to decide I was “old enough,” and I was presented with tickets as a 13th birthday present in 1970, so I have always been very glad the show had such a long Broadway run!

Larry: McCarthy first took on the role of Spanish novelist, poet and playwright Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616) and his “mad knight” Don Quixote in 2009, and has been tilting at windmills ever since. The original novel was published in two parts in 1605 and 1615, so 2015 marks its 400th anniversary. The two volumes are very different in style, but both comment satirically on the outdated traditions of chivalry and life in 16th century Spain. The play starts as Cervantes is thrown into jail to await his trial by the Spanish Inquisition and his fellow prisoners are recruited to tell his tale.

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