On a side street in London’s West Hampstead, lies an anonymous building, its drab functionality belying its purpose, which is to create great art. The Reviews Hub’s Stephen Bates accepted an invitation to come here and visit the rehearsal rooms of English National Opera for a sneak preview of a major musical revival. A long walk down winding, narrow corridors takes some time, but, on arrival at the destination, the good news is that Frasier has NOT left the building.
Kelsey Grammar, best known for playing Frasier in the long-running American television sitcom of that name, is preparing to take the leading role in a long-awaited new production of the 1965 Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Man of La Mancha, not seen in the West End since 1968. With music by Mitch Leigh, lyrics by Joe Darion and a book by Dale Wasserman, the production is the fifth in a series of semi-staged musicals brought to the London Coliseum by producers Michael Linnit and Michael Grade in collaboration with ENO. Based on the experience of its four predecessors and on sketches of the set and costumes which were on view in the rehearsal room, the description of “semi-staged” could be misleading. Over 90% staged seems more likely.
The musical tells the story of 16th Century Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes, imprisoned by the Inquisition, and his alter ego Don Quixote in their quest for justice and freedom. Grammar, who has starred in musicals on Broadway and, very recently, in London (Big Fish at The Other Palace in 2017), will play Cervantes/Quixote. His co-star will be the celebrated Australian/American operatic soprano, Danielle de Niese. British musical theatre veteran Peter Polycarpou will be Sancho Panza and Only Fools and Horses star Nicholas Lyndhurst will be a prisoner who becomes an innkeeper.
The rehearsal room, half the size of an aircraft hangar, with whitewashed brick walls and high ceiling, contrasts sharply with the grandeur that awaits at the Coliseum. The large company mills around until director Lonny Price calls order and Grammar emerges to perform the show’s opening song, accompanied only by a piano. When the show reaches the Coliseum, there will be a 30-piece orchestra. Polycarpou follows with I Really Like Him and then De Niese (in costume) with What Does He Want of Me?. Finally, West End star Cassidy Janson, who will be standing in for De Niese’s at some performances, mounts the stage to lead the chorus for the show’s most famous song, The Impossible Dream.
Appetites truly whetted, we wait for the dream to become a reality in one of London’s most eagerly anticipated theatre events of 2019.
Man of La Mancha runs at the London Coliseum from 26 April to 8 June 2019
Stephen Bates | Image: Stills & Motion