A reachable `La Mancha'

Musical: Braxton Peters, playing the immortal Don Quixote, moves seamlessly between his three characters.


June 08, 2000|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

"Man of La Mancha" is truly an "unreachable star" for most community theater troupes who don't have access to a gifted performer who can bring Miguel de Cervantes' immortal Don Quixote to the stage in a convincing manner.

Surely this is one of the toughest roles in the Broadway canon, for it demands a superb high baritone voice attached to an actor accomplished enough to craft three characters and move from one to the other on the fly.

Bowie's 2nd Star Productions has access to just such a performer in Braxton Peters, the actor Annapolitans know best as the in-house director of the Annapolis Opera.

With consummate flair, Peters moves seamlessly between Cervantes, the author who must narrate his story for the predatory prisoners in whose company he languishes after running afoul of the Spanish Inquisition; Alonso Quijana, the befuddled old man given to fantasies about medieval knights; and, of course, the great Don himself.

Peters gets it all; the author's bitter sense of irony, the sadness of old man Quijana as he keeps close company with death, and, best of all, an extraordinary transformation into literature's most famous idealist.

The opening scene really is incredible to watch. A fake mustache, a phony beard, a few twists of his own gray hair, and, presto! Peters becomes an elderly knight before your eyes.

His defeat at the hand of the sinister "Knight of the Mirrors" makes for marvelous theater as staged by director Jane Wingard, and, best of all, this Quixote enjoys exemplary rapport with his co-stars, who are both excellent.

Lori Hultgren is marvelous as Aldonza, the abused prostitute idealized and changed forever by the delusional Don.

Her anger comes through loud and clear as she berates the old man for rekindling her long dormant sense of self-respect, and she more than holds her own against the taunting stable boys until they gang up on her so cruelly in Act 2.

Her singing voice is lustrous and powerful enough to make one suspect Hultgren is not long for show biz. She's an operatic mezzo all the way and will no doubt plight her troth with that idiom on a full-time basis in the years to come.

Sancho, the Don's hilarious squire, was played to the comic hilt by Jonathan Glickman, who had Friday's opening night crowd rolling in the aisles of the Bowie Playhouse in Whitemarsh Park.

The cast's other standout is Jed Springfield, who is superb as the Innkeeper, delivering a crackerjack "Knight of the Woeful Countenance" in the second act. Inexplicably, he was denied a solo bow in the curtain call, a travesty of aesthetic justice that should be remedied.

Two other serious problems are waiting to be fixed. The first is the sloppy singing delivered by the men's chorus almost every time its members open their mouths. They ran away with the tempo in "Dulcinea"; the entrances at the beginning of Aldonza's opening song were splattered every which way; and the harmonies in "Little Bird" were a mess. Repair to the woodshed, fellas, and learn that music.

I'm also at a loss to explain the hyperactive tempos favored by conductor Donald Smith, who had his leads sprinting through their solos. Aldonza managed to slow him down a little, but poor Quixote was forced to put his pedal to the floor repeatedly, even in "The Impossible Dream." Con calma, maestro! What's the rush?

"Man of La Mancha" plays weekends at the Bowie Playhouse through July 1. Call 301-858-7245 or 410-757-5700 for ticket information.

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