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BWW Review: Davis Gaines Steals MAN OF LA MANCHA at La Mirada

Man of La Mancha/book by Dale Wasserman/music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion/musical director Jeff Rizzo/director Glenn Casale/La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts/ through June 25

As many times as I see Man of La Mancha, I relish the music and high dramatic moments of this classic piece of theatre. Such is the case when the production is top notch, with the perfect actors and highly skilled direction. La Mirada's current revival is top of the line with director Glenn Casale leaving his usual stamp of excellence.

The beauty of Man of La Mancha as a musical is that the story is never dated; it lives and breathes in the moment. When it premiered on Broadway in the 1960s it was a winner and now, almost 60 years later, it is just as engrossing. Madness is always fun to play with. What is madness? And...what is normality? There's a fine line between Quijote's crazy behavior and the deceptive politician, say, who defines himself as a seeker of equality. When we see things as they really are, it is too painful, intolerable. When we see them as we want to see them, however, there's a thick venere of happiness that coats all that is dreary. Death is inevitable but life must have meaning. Dale Wasserman's brilliant book makes us feel the intensity of Cervantes in his quest to write the perfect hero in Quijote, a man who surely lives in and for each moment. Mitch Leigh's music and Joe Darion's lyrics are the perfect accompaniment. Who can keep a dry eye upon hearing the gorgeous strains of "The Impossible Dream" or "Dulcinea"? The creative team are incomparable.

Glenn Casale lovingly directs this production at La Mirada with an outstanding ensemble headed by magnificent Davis Gaines as Cervantes/Quijana/Quixote. Gaines not only has one of the best tenor voices in the business, but has such clear and eloquent diction, which serves him well, especially as he transitions from Cervantes to the madness of Alonso Quijana and Quixote. What I noticed about his performance this time, is that over five years since he last did the role, there has been a tremendous growth. He is at present so comfortable with every aspect of the characters that his transitions are ultimately smooth and vibrant.

Nikki Crawford as Aldonza/Dulcinea is a formidably strong actress who brings the role to her as she shapes and molds it to perfection. Her Aldonza is jaded, yet fiery, and in the end completely vulnerable to Quixote's assessment of her. She also has a beautiful singing voice that rings loud and clear in "What Does He Want of Me?" and "Aldonza" in which she unashamedly spills her guts about the poisons of the world.

Roland Rusinek is delightful as Sancho. Jovial and fiercely energetic, Sancho tends to be overplayed comedically at times, but Rusinek is controlled and makes his character's straight forward logic ring true. Gregory Butler is outstanding as the Governor/Innkeeper, and praise as well to other members of the ensemble: Rich Hebert a deliciously funny Padre, Jeff Skowron, a very physically agile and funny Barber, Michaelia Leigh singing lovely as Antonia, Jenny McGlinchey stalwart as the earthy Housekeeper, and Shannon Stoeke perfectly intelligent and brazen as Carrasco. Let's not forget the wonderfully on target physicality of Joseph Abrego and Eric Stretch as the Donkey and Horse who lend so many comedic touches to their portrayals, proving the old belief that an animal not only serves his master but becomes just like him.

Smooth staging by Casale - who has really punched up the humor throughout, rousing choreography from Patti Colombo, fine set design from Stephen Gifford as well as appropriate 16th century costume design by Leon Wiebers all add to a rich evening of theatre. Kudos also to lighting designer Steven Young who keeps the ambiance very dark, setting the right mood for the play. Praise as well to Jeff Rizzo for conducting a fine orchestra who bring the great score to life.

I have seen Richard Kiley (the original) and Raul Julia give astounding performances in the title role, but I must admit Davis Gaines' electric portrayal ranks right up there with the best of them. It's his greatest career achievement thus far. As far as the entire production is concerned? It is also one of the best, one for future generations to admire.

(photo credit: Michael Lamont)

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