Encore Michigan

Tibbits stages a worthy La Mancha in Coldwater

Review August 11, 2020 Julie Linderleaf

COLDWATER, Mich.–“The world is a dung heap and we are the maggots on it,” says Aldonza, played by Kristina Huegel in Tibbits Opera House’s current production of Man of La Mancha.

In this Covid-19 invaded world, Aldonza’s particular quote and the musical’s theme of questing for the “impossible dream” in the musical written by Dale Wasserman, seem to fit during the events of this crazy pandemic centric period.

The story begins with the famous writer Don Miguel De Cervantes played by Charles Burr, and his man-servant played by Chad Tallon, sent to the holding cells before the Inquisition for being a tax collector.  The rabble decides to hold a trial over Cervantes’s valuables. Cervantes decides that he will defend his case by acting out a story: the story of Alonso Quijuana who in senility becomes Don Quixote de La Mancha, the knight-errant, a man on a quest for the mission of a true knight in a world where knights and knight- worthy missions don’t exist.

Cervantes defends his case by creating an improvised play where the knight-errant is on a mission “to dream the impossible dream, to defeat the impossible foe.” The first “foe” he finds is a giant that needs to be defeated. In truth, it’s only a windmill that “attacks” with vengeance. Don Quixote feels so defeated that he needs to find someone to actually dub him as an actual “true” knight.  So he heads to a “castle” he sees in the distance; in reality just a common roadside inn with ruffians and highwaymen where he finds his lady, Dulcinea, just a tavern wench named Aldonza (played by Huegel).

Throughout the show, Aldonza as well as other characters try to remind Don Quixote that he is not a knight, she is not a lady, and that a quest is completely unattainable. But Don Quixote doesn’t want to see life as it is and tries to get others to see the world as he does.

This summer, Tibbits has planned shows that are either staged readings or concert-style shows so the performers will still have scripts in hand in all or most shows.  It’s not a true staged reading because the actors are in full costume, and movements are blocked. The actors have scripts in their hands; still some performers have many scenes and songs memorized. Not surprisingly, the scenes in which the actors leave their scripts backstage are best. Kiersten Vorheis, Brooke Jackson, and Matthew C. Scott performed the confessional scene “Only thinking of him” perfectly.

Chad Tallon as Sancho and Kiersten Vorhies as the housekeeper and the inn keeper’s wife do wonderfully to keep the staged reading atmosphere smooth and delightful–both with fun and disarming expressions while performing songs such as “I like him” and “Little Bird.”

Music director and pianist Matthew Everingham did very well to tune up the the performers through little rehearsal time on the musical numbers.
The technical elements of main stage productions are tricky to attempt in a temporary outdoor space, but director and set designer Peter Riopelle does extremely well to make this concert version seem closer to a full production experience.

Even though sets were minimal with large printouts and small moveable skeleton boxes to use as tables, beds, and benches, they add to the story quite well. Lighting designer, Catie Blencowe used modest lighting kit, but created extremely imaginative spotlighted moments with two strong flashlights worked by crew members aimed at the performers during key solos. The make-do moments in the age of Covid-19 can be charming and disarming.

Man of La Mancha returns to the Tibbits temporary home at The Ponds outdoor event center in Coldwater, MI August 13-15 for a second weekend of performances, which are at 7 pm each night, Patrons can purchase tickets at Tibbits.org or call 517-278-6029. Social distancing and masks are in force.