I went to the current production of Man of La Mancha at Musical Theatre West with some trepidation. I had seen the original back in a tent in New York City with the inimitable Richard Kiley in the lead. Since then I have seen several more productions but none has topped my first introduction to that marvelous story by Cervantes as seen through the eyes of Dale Wasserman, who wrote the book. (The lyrics are by Joe Darion and the music by Mitch Leigh.)
The new production offered some definite enticements. The history of productions at MTW was impeccable, and often first-rate. Under the artistic leadership of Steven Glaudini the music and vocals were sounding better than ever (1776 was a perfect example of great singing). The fact that Davis Gaines was singing Don Quixote was the biggest enticement, as he has one of the best voices in the world.
Well, Gaines is a phenomenon. One could hardly have judged his acting from Phantom of the Opera or even his brief appearances in 1776 or Parade but as Don Quixote he had to act and sing his heart out. That he did, with bells on. Oh what a voice. He was ably supported by the wonderful Lesli Margherita as his Dulcinea. This extraordinary performer just gets better all the time. The role offered her a range of emotion and she had some great songs. Justin Robertson was good as Sancho Panza though Sancho seemed to be the same as the Manservant. He was fun though.
I was most impressed with Richard Gould as the Innkeeper. He brought just the right balance of presence, compassion, and gravitas to the proceedings. Jason Webb has a smooth and gorgeous voice though he had a tendency to mug. Steven Glaudini was adorable as the barber. Dynell Leigh impressed as the Housekeeper.
The talented Nick DeGruccio was responsible for the mostly excellent directions. Outside of the occasional mugging, DeGruccio emphasized the drama of the piece, which was a wise choice. You can still see the weak bits of the script but his otherwise strong direction more than made up for these lapses. He was unfortunately saddled with an impossible descending cage (as opposed to a drawbridge) that made scenes seem endless.
Bravo to Nick and crew and especially Davis Gaines who is so impressive as Don Quixote. Man of La Mancha will play at the Carpenter Center in Long Beach until February 26.