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Man of La Mancha: “The Best Show Ever

By Burnham HolmesLooking back, there always looms a best show. A time when the planets (minus Pluto) spin into proper alignment. No weak link, a show that glistens like a gem — sharp, defined, reflecting light. No weak sister songs, no rickety bridge to shuffle the story along. Strong and able, a show that rushes from one high point to another.

Just such a show occurred from Nov. 8-12 at Castleton’s Casella Theatre with a reprise on the 15th at the goldenly ornate Paramount Theatre in Rutland, our area’s version of a Broadway house. The show, of course, was Dale Wasserman’s “Man of La Mancha” (with music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion), spearheaded by three talented directors: Harry McEnerny (drama), Jonathan Lorentz (orchestra), and Suzanne Kantorski (voice).

And what a cast! Kevin Ginter, who has studied opera for a year and a half and journeyed to New York for master classes with one of the Irish Tenors, and can hit that note in “The Impossible Dream,” took on the demands of Don Quixote, adeptly alternating bombast and tenderness to deliver the moral message of “follow your quest.

Lauren Martin, in one of her finest roles, as well as her final appearance here at Castleton (New York, here she comes!), shined as Dulcinea and just got better with every performance, piling on subtle shadings to an already full-throated performance.

Julian DeFelice glided all over the stage as the playful sidekick, Sancho, at one time fleeing a scolding with the moves of a cartoon character — his redhead steady, his legs a pinwheel of haze.

Michael Stevens, the sweet-singing Padre (“nice, really nice”), who served as the confessional conduit between Brette Tucker’s housekeeper and Jessica Ryan-LeBlanc’s niece, in a pleasingly complex tenor-soprano-alto trio with an underpinning vamp by pianist Elizabeth Blodgett.

Shawn Dayton, the cape-flipping Captain of the Inquisition, who pointed out the next prisoner to the guards, Adam Desautels and Andrew Gannon, who lumbered down the steps to assist the unfortunates (most poignantly the delirious Michelle Page) to their fiery fate. Matthew Howk, the broad shouldered, virile, and vengeful head Muleteer and a true master of falls, slugs, and slaps; David Gabaree the deep-voiced Governor/Innkeeper who kept order among his fellow prisoners (in a set designed by Randy Ingram; costumes by Brittany Vaughn and Eva Zimmerman) when not bestowing the order of knighthood on a grateful Quixote.

The mounting frustration of Tirzha Osmun-Palmer as Maria, the innkeeper’s wife, who eventually succumbed to an ear-splitting scream. The good cop/bad cop of Matthew Donnelly’s performance as the Duke and Dr. Sanson Carrasco. The breaking of the fourth wall by the barber, Samuel Ducharme, who mouthed “That’s my hat” to the audience.

To top it off the ensemble just sparkled. There was so much going on that an audience member could isolate a character and follow his or her arc through the course of the evening. If a horse and donkey could be more charmingly played than by Heather Barnes and Heather Denardo, or a ragtag bunch of scallions better done than by the muleteers (Phil Barber, Matthew Hession, Ken Holmes, Andrew McDuff, Jonathan White), or a band of gypsides more fetchingly danced than by Joanna Cardillo, Summers Eaton, Courtney LaFalamme, Else McLaughlin, Kate Pierce, Michelle Ross, and Victoria Vondle, then bring it on. It was a group that surely proved the adage: there are no small parts, only small actors.

A college show rarely soars any higher. This writer attended the original production in New York in 1968 with Richard Kiley and Joan Diener, as well as the Broadway revival in 2003, and the Castleton show ranks right up there.

As Mariko Hancock, who has witnessed scads of musicals during her 14 years at the helm of the college’s cultural life, stated: “It was the best show ever.