As the last show of its 2021-22 season, The Justice Theater Project’s production of Man of La Mancha delights and entertains, along with offering some much needed uplift during a time when it indeed feels like the world has gone mad.
Inspired by the 17th century novel, Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, Man of La Mancha re-enacts the adventures of the imaginative knight as a play-within-a-play performed by Cervantes and other prisoners awaiting trial during the Spanish Inquisition. Mitch Leigh’s music and Joe Darion’s lyrics effectively illuminate Dale Wasserman’s book about pursuing ideals despite the obstacles. The original production won five Tony Awards in 1966, including Best Musical and Best Original Score.
Jeffrery Nugent’s impressively draped set, along with Cory Arnold’s creative lighting, multi-tasks as an imposing Spanish dungeon. Designers Sage Amthor Twiss (props) and Sally Beale (costumes) effectively transform the prisoners into their roles for Quixote’s fantastical quest. Director Adam Twiss makes full use of the stage and its surrounding area with performers entering and exiting in the aisles, accentuating how the prisoners transport themselves from their hellish confinement by becoming characters in Cervantes’ story.
Derek Robinson commands the stage as Cervantes who transforms into the questing knight, Don Quixote, while his manservant, Tony Hefner, becomes his ever faithful companion, Sancho Panza. His rendition of the play’s signature song, “The Impossible Dream,” soars with heartfelt urgency. Much of the comedy of the show emanates from Hefner with his “belly of proverbs” and he offers a truly poignant rendition of “I Really Like Him.”
Probably the most impressive vocals are delivered by Liz Hankla as Aldonza, the servant and prostitute who becomes Quixote’s love interest. Calling her his Dulcinea, he declares his romantic intentions and gradually penetrates her defenses. She hits the right sarcastic and saucy tone with “It’s All the Same,” and then showcases her beautiful soprano voice with “What Does He Want of Me?”
Memorable individual performances abound with this talented cast, particularly by Dylan Bailey as the Padre and Ryan Madanick as the Innkeeper. Bailey’s expressive face adds to the comic nature of events and he is delightful in the “I’m Only Thinking of Him” number. Madanick leans into the absurdity of Quixote’s requests with the right amount of humorous levity. Tim Fitch as the menacing Pedro and Taufiki Lee as the cynical Duke and Dr. Carrasco, and later as Quixote’s mortal enemy, accent the darker vibes of the story.
This production of Man of La Mancha mixes broad comedy loosely into the show’s more serious themes of undaunting idealism in the midst of an increasingly hostile and corrupt world. It reminds audiences that despite facing unbeatable odds and sometimes unbearable sorrow, there is an inherent human need to pursue the impossible.
The Justice Theater Project production of Man of La Mancha runs through June 26. For more information visit http://www.thejusticetheaterproject.org/.