Man of La Mancha November 19, 2006
By Glen Creason
The Man of La Mancha rode into Cerritos over the weekend and while he did tilt at windmills, he also brought much topical wisdom from this wise fool called “the knight of the woeful countenance.” Dale Wasserman’s musical came bubbling back to life on the Performing Arts Center stage as warm and amusing as the show I saw as a mere stripling at the glittering new Ahmanson Theater in 1967. As in any enduring work of musical theater this production contains memorable songs and a story that resonates through time. There is a light touch when needed, mostly from the character of Sancho Panza and a tremendously demanding dual role of the “Don Quixote” and the writer Miguel Cervantes. The crucial character of the “Man of La Mancha” must be sympathetic without being pathetic, not an easy task when portraying a lunatic who believes he is a knight-errant, some three hundred years down the road from chivalry and feudalism.
Steve McCoy held the production at Cerritos together in this role. He crafted a fine “Knight of the Woeful Countenance” with gesture, body language and crisply delivered dialogue. His Man of La Mancha was admirable and loveable despite his utter delusion. Even though the old man believes he is slaying dragons and saving innocent maids he is actually battling windmills and complimenting barmaids. Yet, along the way he demonstrates the optimism of his spirit and the worthiness of his quest. McCoy also had the task of pulling off the two trademark vocals in the show “I Don Quixote” and “The Impossible Dream” which are stalwarts in any musical repertoire. McCoy’s fine job set the tone for the rest of an outstanding cast. Michael Barra did an upstanding job as Sancho, a link to the audience’s admiration for the old knight’s devotion to honor, courage and civility. Tess Rohan was a saucy Aldonza/Dulcinea the shady lady who comes to appreciate the higher virtues of her admiring Knight. Shawn Pennington was exceptional as the humorless and brutal Dr. Carrasco. Overall, the entire cast brought enthusiasm and professionalism to every role.
The real, live musicians in the orchestra pit enhanced the musical portions of the work. They warmed the sound, keeping pace with strong vocals by Ms. Rohan in “What Does He Want of Me” and the rousing ensemble piece “Little Bird.” The show had a nice flow and the amazing one room set was changed with lighting and movement of pieces in the space creating the dark claustrophobic feel of a dungeon on one hand and then the airy impression of the knight on his quest on the other. In the end the juxtaposition of the knight’s hallucinated, noble quest versus the oppression and misery of the inquisition make his idealism seem not so misguided after all. The kernel of truth in all of the Man’s misguided adventures is that he stands for the bright side of human nature and even the darkness of repression and inquisition cannot squelch this human spirit.