Man of La Mancha

The Don Quixote story, transcendently retold in Dale Wasserman's allegorical reprise, weaves intricate filaments of fact and fable, fantasy and reality, into a masterpiece of musical theatre with Mitch Leigh's stirring music and Joe Darion's inspired lyrics. It's terrific entertainment with power to stir the soul. For a company of professionals, semi-pros, and aspiring amateurs it's also a tough nut to crack. Not that it can't be done. At Hawthorne's long-gone Showcase Theatre a miraculous production was once pulled out of a hat on a stage hardly bigger than a hat: Directed by Gene Warech, Lynne Warech was its fiery Aldonza, Ed Cotter its reality-challenged Knight of the Woeful Countenance. My mind-blowing first encounter with the masterpiece was at El Camino College on Russell Pyle's magnificent dungeon set.

The audience responded with shouts of "Bravo!" on opening night at Actor's Co-op. Under Bill E. Kickbush's superb lighting, Robert Bingham's fine set resembled an old master's painting by Goya or Utrillo. Revealed in its shadows, concealed under his great, wide-brimmed Spanish hat (costumer A. Laura Brody), virtuoso Jon Minei coaxed plangent strains of enchantment--classical, then jazzy--from his guitar. Director Robin Strand's prelude promised thrills.

No one looks more perfectly the Knight of the Woeful Countenance than tall, angular Ted Rooney, in makeup, in the three-ply role of intrepid tax collector Alonzo Quijana, failed playwright Miguel de Cervantes, and his immortal creation Don Quixote. But, as proves to be pretty much the case throughout with this cast, Rooney's voice lacks the muscular heft needed for songs like "Man of La Mancha," "Dulcinea," "Golden Helmet of Mandrino," and--most certainly--"The Impossible Dream." Diane Martinous gives scullery maid Aldonza a valiant try, but her voice is too small for such dynamic numbers as "Aldonza," "It's All the Same," "What Does He Want of Me?" Only in final moments does Aldonza's power come through, as Dulcinea.

Raul Clayton Staggs is a sweet-spirited, rotund Sancho Panza, but his voice is weak. Tim Farmer's Governor/Innkeeper and Cynthia Sanders as his buxom Housekeeper/Wife are good. Bruce Ladd is a suitably menacing and cynical Carrasco. I loved Sharline Liu's piquant Prisoner, later her seductive gypsy hoochie-coochie dancer. Scott Damian, Frank Sharp, David Atkinson, John Senekdjian, and Gary Clemmer are a threateningly out-of-control gang of Muleteers. Ken Merckx earns kudos for his fight choreography.

Pretty much throughout, these pipes just ain't got it. But this staging of the epochal musical has its (mainly painterly, light enhanced, guitar-driven) virtues, and its message, as always, is a stirring, spiritual call to arms.