Man of La Mancha

Ben Miles Reviews - Theater
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Man of La Mancha – La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts and McCoy/Rigby Entertainment’s current production – began on Broadway in 1965, ran for 2,238 performances, and earned five Tony Awards.

But it started in the seventeenth century as a novel titled Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes. Three centuries later, in 1959, playwright Dale Wasserman (who also adapted Ken Kesey’s book, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, to the stage) wrote a teleplay inspired by Cervantes’s story. It was called I, Don Quixote. Wasserman later teamed up with Joe Darion and Mitch Leigh to create a stage musical based on Cervantes’s Don Quixote. Darion’s lyrics and Leigh’s music, combined with Wasserman’s book, resulted in one of the mainstays of modern day musical theater.

Now Man of La Mancha, under Glenn Casale’s saber-sharp direction, Jeff Rizo’s full-bodied musical direction, and Patti Colombo’s rich choreography arrives at full gale theatrical force. Add to this storm of creativity the formidable performing talents of Broadway veteran Davis Gaines in the lead roles of Miguel de Cervantes and Don Quixote, and this staging of Mancha is a sure-fire, star-powered hit.

The plot unfolds in the 1500s at a Spanish prison during the Inquisition. An impoverished storyteller, Miguel Cervantes, is condemned to the dreaded dungeon, where his fellow convicts inveigle to steal Cervantes’s only possessions and destroy his freshly completed novel.

In order to rescue his book and save his life, Cervantes (the character) enacts a play that tells of the misadventures of Don Quixote. The other inmates are easily immersed in Cervantes’s vivid imagineering and become characters in this play that is placed within the musical.

Along the way in this phantasmagorical journey, Don Quixote comes upon his lady love – the one he claims is Dulcinea, though her actual name is Aldonza (a fiery Nikki Crawford). And, although Aldonza is but an unkempt, yet quite sultry, kitchen wench, Don Quixote calls her the “sweet sovereign of my captive heart.” After all, placing idealism over practicality is the flaw of Cervantes’s alter-ego, Don Quixote.  Even while Aldonza resists Don Quixote’s chivalries and scorns the moniker – Dulcinea – given her by the infatuated Don Quixote, it is she who ends up most transformed by Don Quixote’s noble advances and courtly love.

Moreover, Don Quixote’s best friend and devoted sidekick, Sancho Panza (a cuddly Roland Rusinek) is another manifestation of the strange and ethereal power of Don Quixote’s presence and charisma. Sancho’s song, “I Really Like Him,” is a sweet tribute to Don Quixote and a winning interpretive moment for Rusinek. But it is the show’s signature song, "The Impossible Dream," sung with much emotion by the charming Gaines that’s certain to bring teardrops to the eyes of theatergoers.

In two-acts and nearly two-dozen song-and-dance numbers, this Man of La Mancha is loaded with spectacle, as well as dramatic and poetic complexities.  What’s more,  "The Impossible Dream," is an apt description of the tasks and rigors required to mount such a huge and intricate production.

Kudos to the McCoy/Rigby Entertainment stage-crafting team, including Stephen Gifford, scenic design; Julie Ferrin, sound engineering;  Leon Wiebers, costuming; and to the nineteen devoted member cast.

“Man of La Mancha” continues at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts – 14900 La Mirada Boulevard, in the city of La Mirada – through June 25. For reservations, dial (562) 944-9801 or (714) 994-6310.For schedules, further information, and online ticketing, visit www.lamiradatheatre.com.