What do an idealistic author and a mad knight have in common?? They are both the Man of La Mancha. The musical adaptation of the Don Quixote story by Dale Wasserman, Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion celebrated its premiere in the E.T.A.-Hoffmann Theater a Bamberg premiere that, although not sold out, was certainly much applauded.
The plot of the musical, which premiered in New York in 1965 as "Man of la Mancha," is quickly told: The poet Miguel de Cervantes is thrown into prison, targeted by the Inquisition. His fellow prisoners, however, are hardly less friendly to him; in the dungeon they put him before a tribunal. Cervantes’ plan: In his defense, he wants to play them his farce about Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. This is how a play within a play develops, in which scene after scene rushes across the stage.
The secret star of the Bamberg musical production is anyway the stage itself (set: Karin Fritz): steeply sloping side walls border the oppressive dungeon space, creating an even-like effect, the prisoners fall, as it were, over a train staircase into a funnel; the Inquisition is always hovering over them, sometimes opening the gates to the outside world, only to banish the light from the prison again, demonstrating its power.
Stroboscope and SS uniform
A stroboscope sends flashes of light across the stage, the seemingly heavy ceiling beams descend impressively towards the prison inmates, threatening to crush Don Quixote in his delusions. Why, however, the prison captain appears in SS-like uniform and why the prisoners with their blue and white striped suits remind one quite obtrusively of concentration camp inmates, is not clear, since it contributes nothing to the interpretation of the play.
Volker J. Ringe is especially pleasing as the latently insane, tousled Don Quixote with a crazy look; the personal contrast to the idealistic author Cervantes ("I simply didn’t have the courage to believe in anything…") is a real eye-opener.") could, however, be elaborated more strongly. Iris Hochberger as Aldonza alias Dulcinea, treated like a whore by the majority of the men, stylized by Don Quixote as a virtuous beloved, presents a strong woman, who has admittedly settled accounts with life: "The world is a dunghill, and we are the maggots that crawl around in it"."
Crass scenes to tender sounds
Sentences like this, however, would have deserved more space in the production, in which there is also no lack of show fights. A mass rape scene, on the other hand, proves to be so drastic, due in part to Hochberger’s energetic delivery as it is hurled across the stage, that the underscoring clarinet and flute sounds from the orchestra pit don’t quite want to match it.
Patrick L. Schmitz, in his usual confident role as the comically clumsy, wisecracking knight companion Sancho; Florian Walter, sometimes as the superior prisoner chief, sometimes as the overtaxed innkeeper; Felix Pielmeier as the arrogant Dr. Schmitz. Carrasco and suspicious prison "duke" respectively in a moth-eaten fur coat: they all contribute to the very present stage performance of the ensemble. The voice is especially pleasing to Nadine Panjas, who demonstrates the qualities of a rock singer in her vocal part and shows her talent for comedy in her donkey imitation.
At the musical "The Man of La Mancha In Bamberg, the director is Erno Weil, who has succeeded in putting on a lively and entertaining production, supported by the musical realization of the material by the band "ensembleKontraste" from Nuremberg and complemented by the wonderful sound of a Fender Rhodes piano, played by musical director Manfred Knaak.
A profound theatrical discourse about the timeless values that Don Quixote represents – justice first and foremost, but also love, modesty and virtue, for example – is what one should expect from "The Man of La Mancha" but do not expect. But that is probably also not the claim of this musical.