Man of La Mancha

Centrepoint, Palmerston North

29/03/2008 - 03/05/2008

Production Details

Centrepoint Theatre is kicking off their 2008 Season with a production perfectly embodying this year’s theme of "music, mirth and madness": the five-time Tony Award winning musical, Man of La Mancha. Combining comedy, live music, and puppetry, the production promises to be an innovative and original take on a much-beloved classic.

Imprisoned by the Spanish Inquisition, poet Miguel de Cervantes is forced to plead for his life when put on trial by the other prisoners. In his defence, Cervantes tells the tale of Alonso Quijana, who believes he is the knight-errant Don Quixote de la Mancha, fighting for justice, purity, freedom, and above all, love.

Director Simon Ferry acknowledges that at first glance, a musical – especially one customarily performed on Broadway stages – may seem like an unusual choice for Centrepoint.

"Centrepoint doesn’t ‘do’ big musicals – but the first thing that’s important to remember is that Man of La Mancha is not a musical, but a play with music – that’s how the writer intended it. What I love most about the story is that it’s one man’s struggle against all odds to live life the way it truly should be lived. The music just adds to what is already a huge story with grandiose and mythical themes".

Kane Parsons takes on the challenging role of Musical Director of the production, responsible for translating a score often performed by a full orchestra into something suitable for Centrepoint’s more intimate atmosphere. According to Ferry, the score has been stripped of the "Broadway trimmings", to focus on percussive elements and traditional instruments like the cajon, a type of Spanish drum.  

Ian Harman, in charge of Puppet Design and Construction, is also integral to bringing the vibrant world of Don Quixote’s imagination to life, working closely with Centrepoint’s 2008 Design Intern Robyn Yee, who is responsible for Set and Costume Design. Harman says that "although the puppets are characters inside Quixote’s head, they are very real to him – and so in a sense, they have to straddle the boundary between the real and the fantastic".

Ferry says he has carefully chosen his cast to ensure that both the book and the music are allowed to shine. Steven Ray, direct from an epic 18 week season in the leading role of acclaimed musical The Producers (at the Court Theatre in Christchurch) will be playing the title role of Cervantes/Don Quixote de la Mancha. Regan Taylor, last seen in A Shaggy Dog Story, will play his servant,  Sancho, and NZ Idol finalist, Kali Kopae, who recently appeared in the Downstage production of Othello, will play Aldonza/Dulcinea.

Reihana Haronga, Sebastian Hurrell, Craig Geenty and Kane Parsons round out the cast, playing a variety of supporting characters and operating a number of custom-made puppets between them.

Man of La Mancha opens on Saturday 29 March and runs Wednesdays at 6:30pm, Thursday – Saturday at 8pm and Sundays (barring the first Sunday) at 5pm, until Saturday 3 May.

Cervantes/Don Quixote:  Steven Ray
Sancho:  Regan Taylor
Aldonza/Dulcinea:  Kali Kopae
Other roles & puppeteers:  Reihana Haronga, Sebastian Hurrell, Craig Geenty and Kane Parsons 


Set and costumes by Robyn Yee
Puppets by Ian Harman
Lighting by Laurie Dean

Exhilarating celebration of the imagination

Review by John C Ross 03rd Apr 2008

In the world of this musical, you’re insane if you really behave, or take for granted that others will, in ways that are genuinely humane, fair, decent, honest, generous or loving. You’ll get screwed, more often than not. And yet, `To dream the impossible dream, To fight the unbeatable foe’, as its theme-song says, to hold on to ideals and try to act up to them, whatever it costs, is at least somehow to make the world better for your passing through it, rather than worse.

In Cervantes’ novel `Don Quixote’, on which this is based, the protagonist sets out as a knight-errant to right the wrongs of the world through being too caught up in the fantasies of chivalric romance. In the musical, he does so in revulsion against a too-clear perceiving of reality: of men’s cruelty, murderous thuggery, greed, lust, corruption, and hypocrisy, with the powerful and the underclass equally vicious.

Premiered in the USA in 1964, and then moving on to Broadway for a long run, it’s a clever show, and here ingeniously directed, with a mix of human characters and puppets.

It starts with Cervantes himself in prison, a tax-collector awaiting trial by the Spanish Inquisition, which could burn him, for daring to demand that a rich monastery pay its taxes, and meanwhile subjected to brutality and a mock-trial by the other prisoners, presenting his play of `Don Quixote’ as an ironic defence to the charge of being an idealist.

Steven Ray carries the roles of Cervantes and the man who becomes Don Quixote with equal spirit, assurance and dignity. He looks right, and sings quite well enough.

Kali Kopae, the one female cast-member, plays Aldonza, the much-abused kitchen-maid whom Don Quixote elevates as his noble and beauteous damsel Dulcinea, sultry and sullen. She makes the character fully vivid, and likewise sings well.

The other six cast-members, Regan Taylor, Kane Parsons, Craig Geenty, Reihana Haronga, Sebastian Hurrell and Kahn Manahi, are men of many parts, and all work well; but Regan Taylor merits special mention as the actor behind the puppet-figure Sancho Panza, who gives his character a cheerful spirit.

The set features a curving upstage wall with an ominously dark net-pattern, and a clutter of old suitcases that can be shifted around to suit any locale. Clever.

As a celebrating of the human imagination in spite of the ugliness or drabness of life, this is an exhilarating show.


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“Thank gOD for the best play I’ve seen in years.”

Review by Peter Hawes 01st Apr 2008

Definition 3 of MAGIC (n) in my Collins Dictionary runs thus: `The practice of illusory tricks to entertain other people’. Well, wonderful illusions are being created by puppeteers at Centrepoint Theatre. And people in Palmerston North are being hugely entertained.

The nub of this magic – Man Of La Mancha – is rooted in a ho-hummly dry-bread format: a man, Miguel Cervantes, is unjustly biffed into gaol. Shit is beaten out of him because he differs from the standard ideals of crime – he’s a writer not a thug. He sets out to explain his beliefs to his tormentors per medium of a re-encountment of the story of his mock hero Don Quixote. This is his quest.

Since reading Don Quixote, back in the early 70s (when you did, along with Gormanghast, LOTR and Catch 22) I have always been secretly troubled by what I perceived as four primary flaws in the work:

it was in Spanish, an exigency I craftily circumvented by reading it in English;

it was 1500 bloody pages long (there’s a delicious word in Spanish `mataburros’ which means a book so heavy you can kill donkeys with it);

it shared, with the Dr Faustus tale, a `central’ problem – terrific beginning, great ending, but inconsequentially muddled middle.

Can a man as nuttily imperceptive as DQ be a valid purveyor of serious satire?

Well, writer Dale Wasserman got rid of the waffle by, I presume, paring his copy down with a cheese grater into an odyssey of sustainable human interest. But then he, or composer Mitch Leigh, piled weight back on the text by encumbering it with a 70-instrument Symphonic score which blasted ‘The Impossible Dream’ out at about the take-off decibels of an Airbus.

So there this musical has uneasily languished since, somehow in the suburbs of the West End and Broadway – if such suburbs existed – a florid Iberian tale set to an indigestible Austrian oompapah of sound and fury.
Until Simon Ferry got hold of it.
And reduced it to a guitar.

(And the temptation was there, I’m told by my Greenroom operatives, to reduce it even further: "We’ve got NZ’s best kazooist, Craig Genty, in this cast…"  ‘The Impossible Dream’ kazoo’d? Maybe just too cheeky.)

But the burden that the absence of hefty drums and zithering strings has had upon the poor, dear old pub-knighted, benighted delusional Knight of Melancholy Countenance is palpable; in this muso-lite, incidental production at Centrepoint, he stands tall, his bum is proud – as Don Quixote playing Steven Ray, he is magnificent: his voice booms in song amidst demi sec guitar notes, his out-thrust chin is the lance with which he will tilt at windmills.

Unburdened by a thousand lb orchestra he knows he nowadays has a fighting chance against destiny. After all, he’s only weak of mind (tympani), not Lear mad (cymbals). [They died in the same year, incidentally, 1616. If the Armada had been successful, Cervantes would probably have been the Shakespeare of the world.] Perfect.

And then director Ferry did another decisive thing. He put Quixote into the world he saw, not the world as seen by us. It was a really sporting gesture – Ferry gave Quixote a supporting cast of real, Reality-endorsed, actuality-based, homophonically-rendered, gender-specifised beings he could implicitly, totally and passionately believe in. Puppets.

And bejesus, Steven Ray’s belief, as Cervantes, in the character of Don Quixote, is so stout, so centred and so profound that it entrances (with emphasis on 2nd syllable) us into an uncritical belief in the papier mache population created by puppet-maker Ian Harman (best known, unastonishingly as a magician).

Enter the two-actor-driven Sancho Panza – a querulous and surprisingly thin non-contributor to the answers to the Universe. He’s a hoot.  Then greet a bewilderingly interesting congeries of one-glove inn-keepers, priests, squires et al, engagingly inhabited by glovemeisters Regan Taylor, Kane Parsons, Craig Genty, Reihana Haronga and Kahn Manahi. And yer 35 bucks have been well spent.

Blessedly, the tavern tart is played in the flesh; beautiful Kali Kopae who (`What does he want of me?’) becomes the good Don’s eternal Sweet One – which translates into Spanish as Dulcinea. And the glorious purity of her voice somehow valorises the absurd puppetal universe we’ve been taken into. You can’t sing like that if the place you’re doing it from ain’t real. It separates the papier mache from the botox and biffs them both into the bin. And leaves her.

Alarmingly, EVERYONE in this production can sing. Sheesh, where to for the Rex Harrisons now? And, even more theatrically threatening, everyone can do everything. The person who one second ago was a puppeteer now casually saunters on as a deep guitarist; then returns as soloist, or a walker of Sancho’s sawdust feet. Singing.

There was a guy called Cervantes and he was turfed into jug for something anti-religious and he did write a thing called Don Quixote.  And there still is an Inquisition which caused the whole thing in 16th century Spain. So, on behalf of all atheists all I can say is: "Thank gOD for the best play I’ve seen in years."
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