BWW Reviews: MAN OF LA MANCHA Offers Rocky Miller the Chance to Play His Dream Role
Any actor can tell you what his or her dream role would be and how much they long to play it whenever they can. For Rocky Miller, his 20-year wait to play Don Quixote was well worth it as he fully embodies the heart and soul of Miguel de Cervantes and his Knight of the Woeful Countenance from the moment he takes to the stage in MAN OF LA MANCHA at the San Pedro Theatre Club, directed with emotional depth by Drew Fitzsimmons and choreographed for the small stage by Victoria Miller.
The musical with book by Dale Wasserman, lyrics by Joe Darion, and music by Mitch Leigh, takes place in the sixteenth century and Miguel de Cervantes, poet, playwright, and part-time actor, has been arrested together with his manservant, by the Spanish Inquisition, charged with foreclosing on a monastery. The two have brought all their possessions with them into the dungeon. There, they are attacked by their fellow prisoners, who instantly set up a mock trial and if Cervantes is found guilty, he will have to hand over all his possessions. Cervantes agrees to do so, except for a precious manuscript which the prisoners are all too eager to burn. He asks to be allowed to offer a defense, and the defense will be a play, acted out by him and all the prisoners.
Cervantes (Rocky Miller) takes out a makeup kit from his trunk, and his manservant (Michael-Anthony Nozzi) helps him get into a costume. In a few short moments, Cervantes has transformed himself into Alonso Quijana, an old gentleman who has read so many books of chivalry and thought so much about injustice that he has lost his mind and now believes that he should go forth as a knight-errant, renaming himself Don Quixote de La Mancha, and sets out to find adventures with his "squire" Sancho Panza. ("Man of La Mancha (I, Don Quixote)").
And what an adventure it is - full of mischief, dreams, imaginary battles, put-upon women, fanciful interpretations of reality, and characters portrayed by the ragtag assortment of prisoners awaiting their fate with Cervantes in the dungeon's waiting room. Staged on a flame-imbued, multi-level set designed by James Rodriquez to certainly suggest the dungeon is hell on Earth, actors assist in moving a wooden table and benches which morph into many set pieces suggesting not only the grimy dungeon but all the various locations of Don Quixote's travels.
Along with Rocky Miller's intuitively brilliant performance as Cervantes (and his characters Alonso Quijana and Don Quixote), Michael-Anthony Nozzi adds insightful humor as his proverb-quoting manservant Sancho Panza, his loyal traveling companion from their entrance into the frightful dungeon to leading other prisoners into playing all the characters in Cervantes' story as the action unfolds. Nozzi played the role 19 years ago while working in the dinner theater circuit, and certainly it is one he embraces wholeheartedly with joy during his renditions of "I Really Like Him" and "A Little Gossip.".
When the two travelers reach the inn, which Don Quixote mistakenly believes is a castle, he is welcomed by the innkeeper (gruffly lovable John Russell) and his worrisome wife (Joan Perkins), but of course it is the sexy cook Aldonza (Michelle Zelina, who shines in the role) who catches the attention of Quixote. Miller's rendition of "Dulcinea" will have you believing she is the lady of his dreams, although Aldonza proves repeatedly she is not the sweet and pure woman he imagines her to be. But in Quixote's mind, facts are the enemy of truth.
Travelling with Quixote and Sancho are their two horses, played with full-face masks and much equine humor by Fabio Denino and Terren Mueller. I especially enjoyed their humorously human reactions to Aldonza's questions about their master Quixote as she sings "What Do You Want of Me?" while feeding them kitchen scraps, which they refuse to eat. Mueller also plays the barber whose golden shaving sink becomes Quixote's "Golden Helmet of Mambrino," which Quixote wears proudly over Aldonza's filthy dish rag on his head. Miller treats both these ordinary objects with the respect they deserve as objects of great awe and affection in his dreamer's mind.
Meanwhile, Antonia, Alonso Quijana's niece (Kathleen Grosky), has gone with his housekeeper Maria (Joan Perkins) to seek advice from the local Padre (Peter Miller), who wisely realizes that the two women are more concerned with the embarrassment the knight's madness may bring than with his welfare during "I'm Only Thinking of Him."
The mock-trial's prosecutor, a cynic called "The Duke", is chosen to play Dr. Carrasco (Kevin Doneville), Antonia's fiancé, a man just as cynical and self-centered as the prisoner who is playing him, traits that Doneville also brings to the lead Muleteer Pedro. Carrasco is upset at the idea of having a madman in his prospective new family but the Padre cleverly convinces him that it would be a challenge worthy of his abilities to cure his prospective uncle-in-law, so together they set out to bring Alonso Quijana back home, eventually ending his adventures as Don Quixote.
The long-running success of the musical, which has been translated into many languages and presented around the world, owes its longevity to its message that it is not wrong to believe in your dreams and the world would be a better place if we all strived to make it the place it should be rather than the place it is. Thank you, Cervantes, for your wisdom. And thank you, Rocky Miller, and all the supporting players in the San Pedro Theatre Club's MAN OF LA MANCHA cast for pushing through the many technical glitches tonight and presenting such a life-affirming production with total dedication and love.
MAN OF LA MANCHA runs July 31-August 24 at the San Pedro Theatre Club
Thurs-Sat @8pm and Sun @2pm at The San Pedro Theatre Club, located at 624 South Pacific Ave. in San Pedro, CA 90731. Box Office: 310-600-3466. Tickets and info at www.thesanpedrotheatreclub.com
Rocky Miller, Michelle Zelina
Peter Miller, Kevin Doneville, Kathleen Grosky
Michelle Zelina, Rocky Miller
The MAN OF LA MANCHA cast