Man of La Mancha
The knight of the woeful countenance gallops into the La Mirada Theatre.
Director Glenn Casale helms a masterful production of one of Broadway's greatest musicals. Man of La Mancha is a triumph of visuals and vocal talents. Sharing the stage with a gifted ensemble, Davis Gaines astonishes as the mad but pure Don Quixote.
The musical follows Miguel de Cervantes' 17th-century tale of a country squire (Gaines) whose burdens have driven him insane. The weary man convinces himself to be Don Quixote, a righteous knight who protects the lands from evil giants. His squire, Sancho (Roland Rusinek), protects his master in his delusions, never acknowledging that the giants Quixote attacks are windmills, the grand castles they enter are dilapidated inns, and the virtuous ladies he cherishes are guttersnipes.
Quixote focuses his adoration on a particular kitchen wench, Aldonza (Nikki Crawford), believing her to be his saintly Dulcinea. Though this battered woman initially mocks this insane man, she eventually buys into the fantasy. However, the harsh realities of 16th-century Spain come crashing down on them all.
Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion's rich score features one of the most iconic songs of Broadway's hit parade, "The Impossible Dream". Dale Wasserman's book wisely frames the tale around Cervantes in a prison, utilizing the story of Don Quixote to save himself from the wrath of his fellow prisoners and eventually from the corrupt courts of the Spanish Inquisition.
Playing two distinct roles, Cervantes and Quixote, Gaines portrays a multitude of emotions and idiosyncrasies, particularly to bring Quixote to life. Relying mainly on gestures and glances, Gaines registers the old man's frailty, lunacy, and decency all at the same time. His voice is in rare form as he commandingly belts out the show's famous tunes.
Crawford brings disparity, hostility, and a glimmer of hope to Aldonza. With a guttural voice that could cut glass, her singing reveals her character's anguish. Rusinek can get whiny as Sancho, but he has a jovial presence and brings heft to his character's comic songs "I Like Him" and "A Little Gossip." As the Innkeeper, Gregory Butler has an authoritative bass singing voice that enriches a simple song like "Knight of the Woeful Countenance" into an inspiring number. Jeff Skowron creates a hilarious presence as the nutty barber confronted with Quixote's insanity.
Though Man of La Mancha is not a dance show, choreographer Patti Colombo accents numbers with clever dances, such as the tapping horses and the scuzzy scalawags of the inn who corner Aldonza during her first number. Sadly, two essential scenes, "The Combat," where Quixote, Sancho and Aldonza defend themselves, and the rape of Aldonza, were sloppily conceived and executed, draining both of their impact.
Jeff Rizzo's rich 10-piece orchestra sounds like 30. Crisp and imposing, pulling out the score's unique sounds from the xylophone, piccolo, and flamenco guitar, the pit is epic and fresh to the ear. Stephen Gifford's set, a gothic, haunted-looking castle with an imposing staircase that raises and lowers, gives shivers and reminds the audience of the horror the characters can expect from the Inquisitor courts.
Man of La Mancha is a timeless musical, one that impacts audiences with its optimism when the world is on fire. When the news is currently so tragic, a little bit of Don Quixote may be a reminder that even the disenfranchised can make a positive difference if their spirits remain high.