The last time that St Mary’s Choral Society staged ‘Man of La Mancha’, in 1988, it swept the board with seven AIMS awards, including best overall show.
This time around the Clonmel group was not thinking about awards, just entertaining its devoted following, but it must be in line for huge recognition after a stunning run last week in the White Memorial Theatre.
The Don Quixote story might not appeal to all audiences - it is far removed from the ‘traditional’ musicals such as Oklahoma! or Carousel - and it has to be done really well to get across its unique characteristics.
And it also needs a strong male lead to capture the character(s) of Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote and Alonso Quijana - three roles in one that would prove demanding for any actor.
But in Diarmuid Vaughan the choral society has someone to the part born.
He was truly outstanding, first among equals in a superb cast - a performance that could have graced any professional production at home or abroad.
Patrons left the theatre extolling the brilliance of his performance, his range of emotions, and how he captured the individual personalities of the three-in-one charcter, especially his portrayal of Don Quixote, the delusional knight, tilting at windmills and proclaiming his love for his ‘lady’, Dulcinea, aka the less than virtuous trollop Aldonza.
The society missed out on the best male lead gong twenty seven years ago but it will take an exceptional performance elsewhere to deny Vaughan his second best actor award in five years.
He can also take a well deserved bow for his outstanding set design in a unique male lead/set designer double role, following in the footsteps of his late father Michael who was the set designer in 1988 - with young Diarmuid’s help at the time.
‘Man of La Mancha’ is a show you leave still humming the music, especially the final number ‘The Impossible Dream’, as well as ‘Duclinea’, ‘Little Bird’ and ‘I Really Like Him’
The chorus is superb, as is the orchestra under the baton of Laura Cotter, with a very Spanish feel, especially the evocative flamenco-style guitar playing of Martin Hennessy.
Director/producer/choreographer Michael O’Donoghue wove his magic again as he did in his award winning role in 1988 and as he has done since for so many Clonmel shows - the fight in the inn scene was particularly memorable and surely exhausting for the ‘fighters’.
Of course O’Donoghue had an excellent cast to direct and they gave him everything on stage.
Holly Jean Williamson as ‘Aldonza’ represents the young generation of talented young actors emerging and was a real star in her first leading lady role with the society, first as a saucy trollop and then as the ‘lady’ that Don Quixote saw her as.
Don Quixote’s sidekick and manservant Sancho Panza was brilliantly portrayed by James O’Donovan. Not the sharpest needle in the box, Sancho has to flow with his master’s personality changes and does so effortlessly, his scene to bring Don Quixote’s ‘missive’ to Aldonza is a tour de force.
As we first meet Cervantes/Don Quixote in a Seville prison awaiting interrogation during the Inquisition, there’s no shortage of dubious and unsavoury characters of both sexes - Ricky Dunne as the nasty head muleteer Pedro, Emmet Donlan as the barber and George Barry as the Governor/Innkeeper; while on the ‘ladies’ side there’s Michelle Smith, Fiona Murphy and Ruth Butler - the latter two doubling up as horses in a brilliant scene where Don Quixote and Sancho ride off on their travels.
Other leading roles are expertly played by Siobhan Dempsey as Alonso’s niece; David Hughes as The Duke; Liam Hunter as Padre Perez; Tracey Walsh as the Housekeeper; David Hogan as Captain of the Inquisition; Mary Donlan as the Innkeeper’s wife; Noel Cairns as Anselmo; and Sheena Fennessy as the graceful Moorish dancer.
It’s no surprise that the show has been receiving standing ovations - it merits them all. It’s a wonderful production to mark the society’s 75th anniversary.
The audience enjoyed it - one expects that the AIMS adjudicator will do likewise.