This 1965 Broadway musical hit received Tony Awards for best musical, score, and libretto. It's based on the epic tale by Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote de la Mancha (1605), regarded as the first modern novel. Shakespearian in its colourful Everyman characters, poetic language and romantic narrative, Quixote has read so many stories about brave errant knights that he decides to reinvent the age of chivalry and become a knight himself. With his companion, Sancho Panza he sets out to fight for justice and to seek the lady of his dreams, Dulcinea.
To the evocative, quiet strumming of a Spanish guitar, the starting point of Wasserman's musical drama version, sees Cervantes, the writer, former soldier and tax inspector, and his assistant, Sancho, arrested for foreclosing on a monastery which failed to pay its taxes. They are thrown into prison by the Spanish Inquisition. From above the impressive set of high stone walls and barred windows, a huge steel staircase is slowly lowered to bring the two men down into the underground dungeon. Introducing himself to the other prisoners as "a poet", Cervantes is attacked and teased, his possessions confiscated including his precious manuscript. Given the chance of a mock trial, he begins his defence by dramatising the story of Don Quixote.
"Enter into my imagination" he announces, as he dons wig, helmet and armoury to take on the eponymous role. Casting his fellow thieves, cut-throats and trollops as a bishop, squire, knight, innkeeper, barber, gypsies and maids, he directs them around the stage like a game of chess. And so the play within a play is acted out. Within the prison walls we follow his adventures on horseback across the Spanish countryside, confronting a four armed giant, (a windmill) and finding refuge in a castle and an inn.
The multi-talented ensemble are also the on-stage band playing trumpet, clarinet, guitar, mandolin, piccolo and castanets and percussion. Quixote is well portrayed by the tall, velvet-voiced Nicholas Pound(a musical veteran), who captures this ridiculously naïve, lovesick knight in shining armour who lives a fantasy life. Like the straight man and his stooge, this is true double act partnered by his loyal servant, Sancho - played with sharp comedic banter by Steve Elias.
Along the way they meet Aldonza, a serving girl at the Inn, seen through Quixote's eyes as the beautiful, beloved Dulcinea of his dreams. With a thick Glasgwegian accent, Pauline Knowles certainly portrays the buxom, loud mouthed wench with flamboyant sexuality, but unfortunately her singing voice at times- notably in her opening number, "It's All the Same" - is the weakest link in the show.
This year has seen a popular revival in the Musical, where BBC and ITV talentspotting auditions lead to sell out West End shows. Full marks then to the Royal Lyceum for including a musical in their drama programme. Man of La Mancha is a well crafted entertaiment rich in melodic ballads not least the famous hit, "The Impossible Dream." The classic novel's strong narrative and characters creates a theatrical world - a blend of farcical humour and poignant romanticism. And at its heart is the sad, mad Don Quixote himself, a tragic King Lear figure and at his side his own, devoted Fool, Sancho Panza.
(c) Vivien Devlin, 27 March, 2007 - Published on EdinburghGuide.com