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EMAV Review: SST’s ‘Man of La Mancha’ dares to dream big

★★★★☆ - Delicious

The original cast recording album of the 1965 Broadway musical “Man of La Mancha,” with its bright yellow cover illustrated by Al Hirschfeld with his funny caricatures, got a lot of play in our house when I was a kid. Since it’s currently being produced at Spring Mountain Ranch for Super Summer Theatre, you might wonder how well the show, written by Dale Wasserman with music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion, has held up through the years.

P.S. Production’s presentation of “Man of La Mancha” does not disappoint. With Director Joe Hynes at the helm the show gets a traditional and tasteful treatment. The look is organic, the music is gorgeous, and the performances are uniformly good. It may be a bit dated and a tad dark but the songs are the timeless type that keep you humming for days.

Inspired by 17th century Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes’ farcical novel “Don Quixote,” the show centers on Cervantes himself as a writer/actor/tax collector thrown into prison with his sidekick Sancho for foreclosing on a church during the Spanish Inquisition. Forced to defend himself in front of a jury of fellow prisoners he tells his story by putting on a show, with other prisoners playing the various characters in the tale. And so his protagonist the wannabe Knight-errant Don Quixote, who has gone madfrom reading too many books about chivalry, sets out on a quest with Sancho to right all that is wrong in the world.

At first R Brodie Perry seems unimposing as Cervantes, but when he puts on his silvery beard and mustache and transforms into the eccentric Quixote, the wow factor sets in. From the moment he opens his mouth to sing the anthemic “Man of La Mancha,” he grabs us with his larger-than-life baritone that is electrifying, moving, and somehow soothing. He is both funny and poignant as the kindly cavalier who dares to dream “The Impossible Dream” and see the world how he wishes it to be rather than how it really is. “Facts are the enemy of truth,” he says.

As sidekick Sancho, the endearing Josh Meurer proves Perry’s perfect physical complement and also his vocal counterpoint when he chimes in with his crisp tenor and grounding humour. When he sings the whimsical song “I Really Like Him” to explain his devotion to his delusional master, we find a lot to like about the lovable Sancho, too.

Alexandra Ralph has the earthy sensuality of Aldonza/Dulcinea as well as the fortitude and defiance she relies on to fend off the licentious advances of men. Forced to sell herself to survive, she’s a spitfire who puts up a wall of defense to forget the despair in her life. Ralph channels that anger by pouncing on her solos like “It’s All the Same” with the fierceness of an alley cat, and though her singing is fine most of the time, she often struggles to hit the high notes.

But it’s a physically demanding role, and the show is rated PG 10 partly because of the abuse from the Muleteers that Aldonza endures. For the deceptively sweet song “Little Bird, Little Bird,” Carlos Arevalo, Coree Davis, Diego Miguel, Scott O’Brien, Randy Hample, and Adam Araujo serenade her with lilting harmonies in an increasingly taunting and menacing way, moving in slowly with simmering Tango/Flamenco claps and poses that are intensely dramatic. It’s subtly done but along with a few other suggestive scenes, still has the power to disturb. Standouts include Miguel who shines with his enthusiastic dance moves, and Davis who draws eyes and ears with his presence and beautiful tenor.

Amanda Collins as Antonia, Melissa Riezler as Housekeeper, and Miguel Alasco as Padre impressively nail their divine trio “I’m Only Thinking of Him” with textured, heavenly singing; Glenn Heath does funny tongue-in-cheek deadpan as Innkeeper; and Wade Abel is conniving and sinister as Dr. Carrasco.

Evan Bartoletti’s scenic design is aesthetic and earthy, with its softly colored Moorish architecture and intricate wooden trellis and balcony a surprising juxtaposition to the customary idea of a prison being stark and dark; Ellen Bone’s lighting design includes hazy sepulchral streams and stained glass projections to suggest a church; Eric Bean’s exquisite choreography seems tailored to the abilities of his dancers as an extension of character with a Spanish/Arabic flair--the gypsy dance is especially fun; Sandra Hunstman’s and Douglas Baker’s "peasanty" costumes continue the earthy vibe; and Katherine Gonzalez’s dynamic sound design includes touches like dripping water and clanking prison gates. The sound engineering and mixing at the Ranch have improved immensely, as every word sung and said can be heard.

Kudos to Music/Vocal Director Susan Easter, Orchestrator/Musician Martin Laniel along with musicians Elvis Lederer and Macienzy Kahl, and all other technicians and performers not mentioned.

What kind of world would this be if everyone’s dreams could come true?

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