By John Farrell
Man of La Mancha is everything a Broadway musical should be, and you can see it a lot closer to home.
It opened this past Saturday in a production by Musical Theatre West at the Carpenter Center in Long Beach. If you are going to see just one musical this season, if you need to be reminded why great musicals touch the hearts, minds and emotions in a special way, this musical — complex, richly textured, with great performances and songs that are so much more than just singable tunes — is the one to see.
Man of La Mancha is a remarkable telling of the story of Don Quixote, the knight-errant Miguel de Cervantes created at the same time Shakespeare was writing in England. Though Quixote isn’t as well-known in the English-speaking world, his story is every bit as rich and complex as anything the Bard of Avon wrote.
Davis Gaines, who starred as the Phantom in Phantom of the Opera in Los Angeles and on Broadway, creates the dual role of Cervantes and his creation Don Quixote in this production. His nuanced, extraordinarily heart-felt performance is matched by the fiery, heart-breaking performance by Lesli Margherita as Aldonza and Justin Robertson as the all-too-human Sancho Panza.
All the action takes place in a dirty, evil-looking prison which is realistic enough that you can almost smell it: dark and frightening, with a ladder and a staircase leading into the orchestra pit and a truly frightening elevator that brings prisoners into the prison and takes them away to their fate. Below the stage is the orchestra, led by Matthew Smedal. The dazzling choreography is by Carlos Mendoza, and Nick DeGruccio directs the production.
Man of La Mancha has become more than just a story: it is an inspiration for many and in this production — even if the voices are amplified a bit too much — it is as much an inspiration as ever.
Tickets prices range from $17 to $85. Performances are at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturdays, with 2 p.m. performances Saturdays and Sundays, through Feb. 26.
Details: (562) 856-1999 ext. 4; www.musical.org
Venue: Richard and Karen Carpenter Performing Arts Center
Location: 4350 E. Atherton St., Long Beach