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Man of La Mancha at London Coliseum | Review

Danielle de Niese and Man of La Mancha Company by Manuel Harlan.
Danielle de Niese and Man of La Mancha Company by Manuel Harlan.

Man of La Mancha, the 1965 musical version of the sixteenth century Spanish novelist Cervantes’ story of Don Quixote, who imagines he is a mediaeval knight errant, has not been seen in London’s West End since 1969, so this new English National Opera production has been one of the hottest tickets in London this Spring.

Musically, it is superb, in no small part owing to the ever-excellent English National Opera Orchestra using new orchestrations by David White who also conducts with the necessary elan, giving the show tremendous impetus during each musical number, which is eagerly awaited and greeted with enthusiasm by the audience.

They are ably assisted by opera star Danielle de Niese as Aldonza/Dulcinea who uses her amazing physicality as well as her gorgeous soprano to bring her role fully to life. Her act two solo and abduction/rape sequence are almost breathtaking – she is not afraid to take risks!

Sancho Panza/Cervantes’ manservant is vividly portrayed by Peter Polycarpou: he has true stage charisma and is always subtly watchable. His experience in musical theatre shines through as we see the subtle nuances he brings to his characterisation. One highlight is his rendition of ‘A Little Gossip’ which is most amusing. His diction is well nigh perfect – very difficult in the Coliseum’s notorious acoustic, and he is one of the very few on stage to get any laughs from the dialogue!

As Don Quixote/ Cervantes, Kelsey Grammer looks suitably careworn and weary and his ‘doleful countenance’ is always evident. He last appeared on the West End stage in the small scale musical Big Fish, in which he was deservedly very successful. Since then he appears to have lost a lot of weight and is the embodiment of the novel’s description of him. He proves to have a substantial musical style bass voice with a pleasant high range as well, even if his rendering of the show’s ‘hit’ (The Impossible Dream) is a little too ‘meaty’, though in the vast space of the Coliseum, this is perhaps necessary.

Nicholas Lyndhurst seems wasted in the secondary roles of The Governor/The Innkeeper, though makes as much of them as the script will allow, and proves to have a fine light singing voice in his Act Two number ‘The Dubbing’.

The production itself is traditional, being staged in one composite set (James Noone) representing a prison with a huge metal staircase that descends centre stage from the flies at various times and confining exits/entrances to two narrow passages up left and right. Lighting (Rick Fisher) is used rather weakly to denote the Tilting At Windmills scene but otherwise is imaginative and focused. Excellent (I e subtle!) sound design is by Mick Potter.

The director, Lonny Price has, with Rebecca Howell (choreographer) and Kate Waters (fight director) staged the musical numbers imaginatively and with great energy, especially the ‘Knight of the Mirrors’ sequence in Act Two. However, long stretches of dialogue keep on threatening to bring the show to a standstill, often lacking pace and leaving one longing for the next song! This is the part of the show which has dated most – what worked sixty years ago often seems stilted now, which is a great shame, though don’t let that put you off from seeing it – it is a minor quibble in what is overall a magnificent achievement.

4 stars

Review by John Groves

The producers who brought you the smash hit productions of Sweeney Todd, Sunset Boulevard, Carousel and Chess present the Tony-award winning musical Man of La Mancha, at the London Coliseum this spring. Featuring the legendary song, The Impossible Dream (The Quest), Man of La Mancha is inspired by Miguel de Cervantes’s masterpiece novel Don Quixote. This uplifting, timeless tale stars Kelsey Grammer, Danielle de Niese, Nicholas Lyndhurst and Cassidy Janson, from 26 April for a limited 6 week season. Described by esteemed American critic Edward P. Morgan as ‘One of the most magnificently moving pieces I have ever seen on any stage’, and celebrated throughout the world, Man of La Mancha at last returns to the West End in a new production for the first time in 50 years. Performed on the magnificent stage at the London Coliseum with the ENO’s 35-piece orchestra, it is set to be the theatrical event of the year. Join Don Quixote as he chases his impossible dream, to pursue the beautiful princess Dulcinea – and a few windmills. Determined to uphold all that is good and right at a time when the odds are stacked against him, Quixote’s courage is abounding, and we are all compelled to follow his unreachable star.

BOOKING PERIOD: 6 April – 08 June 2019
PERFORMANCE TIMES: Monday- Saturday 7.30pm, Wednesday & Saturday 2.30pm,
AGE RESTRICTION: Contains some adult themes which may not be suitable for children under 12 – No under 5s admitted in the auditorium

London Coliseum, St Martin’s Lane, London WC2N 4ES


  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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