At the Custom Made Theatre in San Francisco, the audience enters and takes its seats as people move about on a dimly lit stage set with rustic benches, tables, and up and down a ramp, upstage. Soon an off-stage voice announces that we’ll be witnessing the inquisition trial of author Miguel de Cervantes for heresy and other charges. In his defense, Cervantes narrates adventures of the errant knight Don Quixote as he dons knightly garb and becomes him. Award winning actor, the excellent Edward Hightower plays both author and knight. Actors who had been moving about the stage, we come to realize, make up the rest of the cast in this musical play.
Under Brian Katz’s brilliant direction, the cast of greatly talented actor/musicians and singers integrate “stripped down” music and major songs, such as the heartrending “Impossible Dream” into the body of the play. Because of Katz’s and musical director Mark Dietrich’s decision to reduce the score “down to its essence,” it neither distracts nor hinders the thrust or pacing,
Quixote made a simple peasant, Sancho Panza (an excellent Dave Leon), his squire. Panza often tries to set his boss straight as when he tries to convince Quixote that windmills are not sword-wielding giants and often resorts to an original, earthy wit in dealing with his rhetorical orations on antiquated knighthood. He also insists to Quixote that Aldonza is no lady of royalty whom Quixote calls “Dulcinea” but a prostitute and barmaid, with no success (The multi-faceted, believable, and beautiful Rachael Richman is Aldonza/Dulcinea, an equal match to Hightower’s Quixote.)
A strong supporting cast (above) led by Anthony Aranda, as Innkeeper/governor/percusionist; with Kimberly Cohen; James Grady; Paul Hogarth; Emily Jeanes; Jenny Matteucci, Emma Onasch, Jack O’Reilly; Shelby Stewart, and Mauricio Suarez contributed to making Brian Katz’s beautifully contained production of this well-known musical a success.
Playwright Dale Wasserman and Lyricist Joe Darion have said that their musical does not pretend to be a faithful rendition of either Cervantes’ life or that of the novel Don Quixote. One of the main backstories concerns the book’s protagonist, the nobleman Alonso Quizano’s intense study and reading of books on knights’ chivalry. which not only inspired him, but seriously influenced his personality so that he saw himself as a knight and prompted him to lead a knight’s’ life. He became delusional and rechristened himself Don Quixote de La Mancha. When he was arrested, the authorities burned his extensive library.
“Man of La Mancha” runs through February 17: Thu, Fri, Sat 8PM; Sat matinees @ 2PM. Go to www.custommade.org for tickets and more information.
Note: The original 1965 Broadway production ran for more than 2000 performances and was awarded five Tonys, including Best Musical. It had been revived four times and became one of the most enduring works of musical theatre.