MAN OF LA MANCHA

Stunningly staged and strikingly redesigned, A Noise Within’s Man Of La Mancha takes a half-century-old musical theater classic and gives it 21st-century relevance while reminding audiences why the 1965 Best Musical Tony winner has stood the test of time in a way the same year’s Skyscraper, Pickwick, and It’s A Bird…It’s A Plane…It’s Superman have not.

As any Broadway buff can tell you, Tony winner Dale Wasserman’s book recounts the classic Miguel de Cervantes tale of El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote De La Mancha precisely as Cervantes might have done so himself when imprisoned during the Spanish Inquisition, enlisting the aid of his fellow dungeon-mates to bring that windmill-tilter’s quest to dramatic theatrical life while awaiting trial by some rather pesky Inquisitors.

Donning Quijote’s trademark gray mustache and goatee, Cervantes quickly transforms himself into the aged Alonso Quijana, whose unrelenting dreams of chivalry and incessant thoughts of the world’s injustices have driven him into a madness in which he sees himself as a “knight-errant,” one whose mission in life is “to dream the impossible dream, to fight the unbeatable foe, to bear with unbearable sorrow, to run where the brave dare not go.”

These are of course the lyrics to Man Of La Mancha’s Greatest Hit, “The Impossible Dream (The Quest),” just one of the musical’s many memorable Mitch Leigh/Joe Darion songs performed at A Noise Within by a pitch-perfect mash-up of actors who can sing and musical theater performers who can act.

Still, what sets this Man Of La Mancha apart from the nine productions I’ve seen since its original Broadway cast played the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion is director Julia Rodriguez-Elliott and her design team’s edgy contemporary rethinking of the musical’s original Spanish Inquisition prison setting while savvily maintaining Don Quixote’s early 17th-century timeframe.

Scenic designer Fred Kinney’s holding tank set, Angela Balogh Calin’s costume design grunge, and an abundance of tats make it clear from the get-go that this Man Of La Mancha could be taking place anywhere in today’s world where men and women find themselves jailed for their religion or their sexuality or their politics, an inspired choice that allows those among us who might pass on yet another MOLM to see it with fresh new eyes while guaranteeing newbies the essence of what has made the show a Broadway legend.

Perhaps not surprisingly for a theater company whose customary fare is Shakespeare, Miller, Moliere, Williams, and Ionesco, director Rodriguez-Elliott has staged her Man Of La Mancha as a play with songs (and scarcely a hint of dance), just one reason it runs a brisk, intermissionless hour-fifty.

Still, no one who’s come for the music will have reason to complain, not with Cassandra Marie Murphy matching the vocal brilliance of her recent Cabrillo Music Theatre triumph as Evita (with dramatic acting chops to match), not with A Noise Within resident artists Geoff Elliott (Cervantes/Don Quixote) and Jeremy Rabb (Padre/Paco) and ANW favorite Kasey Mahaffy (Sancho Panza) more than holding their vocal own.

Elliott once again dazzles he did a decade ago in a role he was clearly born to play, at once grandiose and heartbreakingly vulnerable; as his Dulcinea, Murphy is gritty, gorgeous, and quite simply great; and though rethinking short-dark-and-round Sancho Panza as a redheaded six-foot-tall Leprechaun may be casting against type, it works with the irresistible Mahaffy in the role.

Featured players deliver one absolutely terrific cameo after another, from Cynthia Marty’s Maria/Housekeeper to Michael Uribes’ Dr. Carrasco to Cassie Simone’s Antonia/Fermina to Gabriel Zenone’s Innkeper, with special snaps due Andrew Joseph Perez’s delightful Barber and Rabb’s silver-throated Padre, and Mario Arciniega (Juan), Tyler Miclean (Anselmo), and Marissa Ruiz (Guard) completing the hard-working, goods-delivering ensemble.

Musical director Dr. Melissa Sky-Eagle and Man Of La Mancha’s seven-piece orchestra* scale down Carlyle W. Hall, Sr.’s original folk-flamenco-bolero orchestrations to intimate but no less effective dimensions. Sound designer Martín Carrillo makes dramatic use of amplification and reverb, aided by sound engineer Christopher Bosco.


Still, if there’s one thing Man Of La Mancha buffs will be buzzing about, it’s the revival’s revolutionary new look. Dramatically lit by Ken Booth, Kinney’s stark gray set offers multiple surprises (and moments of unexpected beauty), Calin’s ingenious costumes transform inmates into Quixote characters with accessories pulled from garbage bags, just a few of the multitude of meticulously distressed props provided by Erin Walley, including tattered black umbrellas as windmills, mops as horses, and ladders and scaffolding in multiple configurations.

Talia Krispel is stage manager and Gabrielle J. Bruno is assistant stage manager. Jacquelyn Gutierrez is props assistant and Nik Engelhart is assistant sound designer. Scenic construction is by Sets To Go and Trifecta Scenery. Orlando de la Paz and Sets To Go are scenic painters. Additional casting is by Amy Lieberman.

It’s hard to imagine a season-closer that more richly embodies A Noise Within’s 25th-anniversary theme, Beyond Our Wildest Dreams, than Julia Rodriguez-Elliott’s Man Of La Mancha. Even in their wildest dreams, 1965 Broadway audiences could scarcely have imagined a revival anything like this one. Beyond our wildest dreams? It is indeed that, and then some!

*Maya Barrera, Micahel Boerum, Adrienne Geffen, Barbara Laronga, Robert Oriol, Angela Romero, and Ken Rosser

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A Noise Within, 3352 East Foothill Blvd, Pasadena. Through June 4. See website for detailed schedule. Reservations: 626 356-3100 ext. 1.
www.ANoiseWithin.org

–Steven Stanley
April 1, 2017
Photos: Craig Schwartz

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