London Coliseum – until 8 June 2019
It has been 50 years since Man Of La Mancha last played in London’s West End and based upon this year’s offering from the ENO and co-producers Grade-Linnitt it is easy to see why. This curious tale of romance, chivalry and ageing, drawn from Cervantes’ Don Quixote, demands production values that are nothing short of excellent if its hidden but cheesy charms are to truly suspend an audience’s disbelief.
Here however, celebrity stunt casting has stripped what could have been a majestic musical of its Iberian magic. Kelsey Grammer leads as Cervantes/Quixote and while Grammer’s ability to carry off the close-ups of a carefully scripted TV sitcom is unmatched, he fails to fill the demanding chasm that is London’s Coliseum. Compared to the West End’s finest, Grammer can sing, just. But he cannot act through his song and for a show that is built around one absolute money-shot of a number, the first act’s closer ‘The Impossible Dream’, one is left wandering out for an ice cream and feeling distinctly short-changed even before the rip-off prices of a vanilla tub.
There’s mediocrity elsewhere too – Nicholas Lyndhurst (another gem of the smaller screen) puts in a throughly average turn as the Governor/Innkeeper and even Peter Polycarpou as Sancho Panza, a man who usually delivers musical theatre genius, is burdened by director Lonny Price with a cod Spanish accent that reduces his part to little more than a Spanish waiter. Polycarpou is so much better than this.
There are some moments to the production that imbue quality. Danielle De Niese is magnificent as Aldonza/Dulcinea – her voice, particularly in the closing act, breaking hearts as she sings of her love for the dying old man. And the music is rather wonderful too with the ENO Orchestra under David White’s baton proving an absolute delight. For anyone who loves Mitch Leigh’s sumptuous score, you will never hear it played live any finer than this.