Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
July 27, 2012
There’s a comic song in the first act of the American musical classic, “Man of La Mancha.” Sancho Panza , the tireless squire to the windmill-tilting fantasist, Don Quixote, is being asked why the big-hearted nice guy puts up with the crazy old man. “I Like Him,” is all he can say. His plaintive response includes oddball explanations like, ‘Pluck me naked as a scalded chicken, I like him.’ The same could be said by the lead actor in the outstanding production at Cygnet Theatre. Sean Murray, the company’s artistic director, is taking his third stab at the triple-header role that features Miguel de Cervantes, the 17th century Spanish novelist; and his most famous creation, the fantastical knight errant, Don Quixote, who, in his regular daily life, is known to his selfish kin as the country gentleman, Alonso Quijana .
Murray first assayed the multi-character role at Poway High School three decades ago, then in 2001, when he was artistic director of North Coast Repertory Theatre. And knowing a good thing when he sings it, here he is again, flooring us with his resonant baritone and his marvelous transition from author to nobleman to everyone’s favorite iron-clad defender of virtue and chivalry.
The lead actor has to carry the show, and Murray delivers in spades. Under his direction – which makes this a four-pronged foray for him – the rest of the cast is energetic and vocally compelling, and the excellent six-piece band is supplemented by talented actor/singer David Kirk Grant on guitar.
Grant also plays the ‘Governor’ of the inmates in the dungeon where Cervantes finds himself, in the fact-based section of the piece. The writer had worked as a tax collector, and in his zealous integrity, he foreclosed on a church. Big mistake. While awaiting the summoning of the Inquisition, he’s forced to submit to another interrogation, put on trial by his fellow prisoners, accused of being “an idealist, a bad poet and an honest man.” He pleads guilty, but insists on mounting his defense in the form of a play, enlisting the grimy denizens to act out the story of his yet-unfinished novel. Magic ensues.
It’s a delightful production, not breaking any new ground on the Dale Wasserman/Mitch Leigh/Joe Darion original, but featuring an outstanding ensemble and miraculously managing to include even the descending staircase that marked the iconic Broadway production of 1965 — thanks to the wizardry of scenic designer Sean Fanning. The costumes, lighting and sound are equally notable.
Okay, so the play is a little heavy on melodrama and anthems (do we really need to hear ‘The Impossible Dream’ four times??). But the ending never fails to bring a tear to this jaded eye. And couldn’t we all benefit from a little idealism and morality these days?
“Man of La Mancha” runs through August 26, at Cygnet Theatre in Old Town.
©2012 PAT LAUNER