Man of La Mancha – Review by Bonnie Goldberg

In a few words, Westport Country Playhouse’s “Man of La Mancha” is exceptionally magnificent and moving and a theater goer’s “impossible dream” come true. If you love great theater, this incredible musical captures Dale Wasserman’s legendary tale of an unlikely hero with music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion, emboldening the stage of the playhouse until Sunday, October 13.

It is the time of the Spanish Inquisition, and a humble man, one Miguel de Cervantes, poet, playwright, actor and tax collector has been thrown into prison and forced to plead his case before the courts. He finds to his dismay that his fellow prisoners want to put him on trial first. They charge him with being an idealist, a poet and an honest man. In his defense, he conjures up a charade, an entertainment, a tale of a country squire turned knight, one Don Quixote.

Have you ever been challenged to stand up for a cause? To challenge the establishment, even if the cause seems hopeless? The epitome of battling for unrealistic goals is surely Don Quixote. Rarely in literature has there been a more gallant and brave individual driven by fantasies, who has ridden off to battle giants even if they are really windmills, envisioned castles when they are actually only humble inns and courted ladies who are in fact lowly scullery maids. Philip Hernandez embodies every inch of our hero with strength and courage, sallying forth with his faithful sidekick Sancho Panza, a loyal and affectionate Tony Manna close by, spouting proverbs of encouragement.

Using the inmates as his actors, Cervantes plays the hero who goes forth into battle to slay dragons and rescue fair maidens. As Don Quixote, he first faces the Great Enchanter, a giant with many arms, that to some might resemble a windmill. Soon he seeks shelter at a nearby castle, wanting hospitality from the lord (Michael Mendez), who for all the world looks like a mere keeper of an inn. But it is when Quixote’s eyes behold the unkempt maid, whom he claims as his Dulcinea, a fiery and disbelieving but engaging Gisela Adisa, that his illusions truly take wing. Is he a mad man or the sanest of us all?

Musical numbers soar from the title song to the lyrical “Dulcinea,” the sweetness of “Little Bird,” the laughter of “I Really Like Him” to the power of “The Impossible Dream.” This production is gallantly directed by Mark Lamos, on a versatile set designed by Wilson Chin, with lighting by Alan C. Edwards, costumes by Fabian Fidel Aguilar and musical direction by Andrew David Sotomayor.

For tickets ($30 and up), call Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, off route 1, Westport at 203-227-4177 or 1-888-927-7529 or online at www.westportplayhouse.org. Performances are Tuesday at 7 p.m., Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., Thursday at 8 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 3 p.m.

Expe rience theater at its best as you travel across the dusty Spanish plains with a slightly foolish knight who dreams of attaining glory.

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