The Star Group Review: “Make It Your Quest To See MAN OF LA MANCHA”

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MAN OF LA MANCHA is playing for three more weekends at Plaza Theatre Company. It is a beautiful story with magnificent performances and glorious music. But don’t just take our word for it – read Paul Gnadt’s review of the show below, then call 817-202-0600 or visit www.plaza-theatre.com for reservations.

Make it your quest to see Plaza’s ‘Man of La Mancha’

Keene’s Shannon Loose as Aldonza sings a lament to a horse and donkey during the Plaza Theatre Company’s presentation of “Man of La Mancha,” paying Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through Sept. 7 at the Plaza Theatre in Cleburne.

Three words: Perfect. Finally. Creative.

The casting of community theater veteran Joel Lagrone to play the title role and Carnegie Players’ Shannon Loose to play his leading lady is the perfect combination for the Plaza Theatre Company’s presentation of “Man of La Mancha,” playing through Sept. 7 at the Plaza Theatre in Cleburne.

It’s about time we finally see Loose, who lives in Keene, on the PTC stage. The lady can really sing. Her role of Aldonza is double-cast with PTC cofounder Milette Siler, who can also sing. But it was Loose in the role the night I attended and, hopefully, this is the first of many appearances she will make at PTC.

And once again, PTC’s creative cofounders G. Aaron Siler (sound, light and set designer) and JaceSon Barrus (set design and construction) have transformed the space-challenged Plaza theatre-in-the-round stage into another world, this time a dark, dank prison of 1594 in Seville, Spain, the setting for this wonderful, if a little bit confusing, musical.

Forget that this is amateur theater in small-town Texas. The PTC talent is absolutely amazing, and the voices — Michael McMillian as Sancho Panza, Martin Guerra as Padré, Emily Warwick as Antonia and Pam Valle as the Housekeeper — are as good as those in any playhouse anywhere. The voices of Lagrone, Loose and Siler are better than most.

“Man of La Mancha” is the musical adaptation of a book by Dale Wasserman, lyrics by Joe Darion and music by Mitch Leigh. It is adapted from Wasserman’s non-musical 1959 teleplay, “I, Don Quixote,” which was, in turn, inspired by Don Miguel de Cervantes’ 17th Century masterpiece, “Don Quixote.” It tells the story of the “mad” knight, Don Quixote, as a play within a play, performed by Cervantes and his fellow prisoners as he awaits a hearing with the Spanish Inquisition.

The original 1965 Broadway production ran for 2,329 performances and won five Tony Awards. The show’s signature song, “The Impossible Dream,” is a standard headed for “classic” status.
Lagrone’s rendition of it is great.

A seven-year veteran of Metroplex theater (including years at “The Promise” in Glen Rose) Lagrone is making his PTC debut as Cervantes. Imprisoned during the Spanish Inquisition, he thinks of himself as Don Quixote, a knight who saves damsels in distress and fights dragons that are actually windmills. The fair damsel in his life is Aldonza, a lady of ill repute, played by Loose (and Milette Siler). While others see her for what she is, Quixote sees her as a fine lady.

As Cervantes plans his defense for his trial, he devises a play that involves all the prisoners. I had a little trouble differentiating between the “play” and “real time,” but it really doesn’t matter because the songs are so good and some scenes are quite funny.

And congrats to director G. Aaron Siler and musical director Soni Barrus for staging some fight scenes, musical numbers and other maneuvers that are very clever.

And double congrats to G. Aaron Siler and JaceSon Barrus for the creative set that asks the audience to use a little imagination. The set never changes, but a few clever props and lighting techniques turn corners of the stage into a stable, a kitchen, a church and a bedroom.

PTC has presented a plethora of clever and imaginative props during its run of 67 shows since 2007, but the scene when Aldonza sings “What Does He Want of Me?” to a horse and donkey with moving parts is one of its best. The audience erupted in delightful and spontaneous applause the night I attended.

Kudos to Tina Barrus for costume design and to Parker Karrus for designing the horse heads.

But it’s the singing that matters and there are about 20 songs to enjoy.

If you haven’t heard him before, Lagrone can sing. His voice is sort of mellow-bold, commanding but not overpowering. He is perfect for Don Quixote and gets things going with an opening song accompanied by McMillian, who plays Sancho Panza, Don Quixote’s manservant. McMillian does a good job throughout, bouncing off Lagrone’s lead to give him set-up lines. His treatment of “The Missive” is lively and fun.

If you haven’t heard her before, Loose can really, really sing. She’s played Aldonza with the Carnegie Players in 2008, and her familiarity of the role enables her to master it. She and Lagrone work well together, respecting each others’ time in the spotlight.

You’ll also enjoy the singing of Guerra, Warwick and Valle, especially in two numbers called “I’m Only Thinking of Him,” and “We’re Only Thinking of Him.”

Otherwise, PTC regulars attendees will recognize Solomon Abah, JaceSon Barrus, Jay Cornils, Luke Hunt and Jay Lewis in support roles.

Three words: Go see it.

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