Julian Eaves reviews Man Of La Mancha starring Kelsey Grammer now playing for a limited season at the London Coliseum.
In the mid-Sixties, when this first appeared, there was sufficient novelty and wonder in it’s ‘show within a show’ format to engage audiences: now, this structure seems awkward and cumbersome, rather than revelatory. Familiar house director Lonny Price (virtually the whole creative team are return visitors from previous successes like ‘Sweeney Todd’, ‘Carousel’, ‘Sunset Boulevard’ and ‘Chess’ – other people may disagree, but I liked all of them!) does what he can with this clunky apparatus, but even he seems confounded by its static and contradictory nature… so many unresolved issues, straggling loose ends, gaping plot holes. Well, I say ‘plot’: Cervantes’ amusing book is a ‘picaresque’ tale of one damn thing after another; that works well enough on the page, but how many transfers to the stage of such formats really work? Does ‘Candide’ actually work? I looked in vain for any sense of direction in this sprawling mess. Where was it? All a dream?
Hmm. The Michaels (their eminences, Grade and Linnit) evidently think the show does bear revival. Or, whoever has stumped up the cash for this show does. Some people have remarked a strange similarity between this work – especially its central character – and the last show Mr Grammar starred in, ‘Big Fish’, at The Other Palace, about a similarly Quixotic figure. Well, perhaps that’s just coincidence? Perhaps.
Lyndhurst probably comes off best, by giving us two diametrically opposite characterisations, and each is wonderful. He is a fine actor, a brilliant comedian, and he can do everything that is asked of him. Polycarpou has had much better material to work with than here, and that is what we should remember him for. Here, there is a chronic lack of imagination in how to work with his talents, which go largely unacknowledged. Oddly, musically the best moment of the event – for me – comes with Minal Patel’s sublime number as the ‘Padre’: in his one, stand out, musical number, he gives what is simply a masterclass in how to sing musical theatre. It is a flawless number and one that will leave you with shivers down your spin.. contemplaring what ‘might have been’, if only there had been better material available for the rest of the company.
For the truth of the matter is that this score just isn’t very good. The boys, who are meant to be such menaces in the prison-environment into which the Don, et al, have strayed, have musical numbers (eg. ‘Little Bird’) which sound as if they should have been meant for the Eversley Brothers. Oh, dear. And as for the second act opener of a ‘simulated gang rape ballet sequence’, well…. that had me wondering exactly which audience this show is pitched at!! Family fare it decidedly is NOT!!! (Well, not for any families I know…)
So, here it is. After all these long, long years of (deserved) neglect. Make of it what you will. There are occasional things to enjoy here, but so many more searching questions to ask, like… ‘Why?’