KPBS AIRDATE: MARCH 16, 2001
Talk about an Impossible Dream… How about mounting a full-scale musical on the tiny stage of North Coast Repertory Theatre? Well, it’s not only the Disney company that makes dreams come true. The wizards of North County have brought history and literature to life. The current production of the timeless, award-winning 1965 musical, “Man of La Mancha,” is stupendous. North Coast Rep is reborn as a Magic Kingdom.
They got absolutely everything right. From the director and choreographer, Kathy Brombacher and Don Ward, borrowed from Moonlight Amphitheatre in a stunning collaborative effort… to the dungeon-like prison set by design whiz Marty Burnett… to the impeccable ensemble. It all underscores this deliciously inspiring if somewhat sentimental musical. The underscoring, in fact, is the only noticeable shortfall; given the small size of the space, there’s no room for live musicians. And some of the taped score sounds thin or tinny, especially when it relies solely on the guitar. But this is a teeny quibble. The production is mesmerizing, from spellbinding start to tear-jerking finish.
In case you slept through the last 35 years of musical theater, or you’re just coming to it… “Man of La Mancha” is based on the 17th century classic novel by Miguel de Cervantes, skillfully framed as a play-within-a-play, with the author himself as centerpiece.
First we meet Cervantes, who had worked as a tax collector to support his habit of writing. Scrupulous to a fault, he’s thrown in prison for foreclosing on a church. As he awaits the Inquisition, his fellow inmates subject him to their own trial, accusing him of being “an idealist, a bad poet and an honest man.” He pleads guilty, and in his defense, he convinces the other prisoners to act out the still-unfinished story of his most famous character, Don Quixote de la Mancha, the windmill-tilting old gaffer who seeks to right the world’s wrongs.
It’s a timeless tale of virtue and chivalry, seeing the world as it should be and not as it is, dreaming impossible dreams, fighting unbeatable foes, bearing with unbearable sorrows. Well, you know the lyrics as well as I do. And though that may be Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion’s most famous song, it isn’t necessarily their best. There are comic and dramatic ditties, from the title tune to “I Really Like Him,” from “Dulcinea” to “Aldonza the Whore.”
In this production, each is wonderfully sung, with standout vocal performances by Sandy Campbell as Aldonza, the scullery slut cum damsel-in-distress, Ralph Johnson as the sweet-voiced Padre and Angelo D’Agostino-Wilimek as the aggressive chief muleteer.
At the center of it all, with co-directing credits, is Sean Murray, whose portrayal of the titular knight is flawless. He’s in splendid voice, and his acting muscles, not flexed often enough on local stages, are in full-bodied form. He transforms himself from writer to knight in a brilliant flash, and whisks us away on his magical, musical journey. If you haven’t seen “Man of La Mancha” in some time, this is an irresistible opportunity. If you’ve never seen it at all, what on earth are you waiting for?
©2001 Patté Productions Inc.