It's been nearly 15 years since Stage West Community Playhouse produced the dramatic Broadway musical Man of La Mancha, but longtime theater patrons still talk about the impact the show's beautiful music, heart-rending story and exciting staging had on them.
So it's little surprise that when theater members were asked to choose their favorite shows to re-create in celebration of the theater's 30th anniversary, Man of La Mancha easily made the Top Five.
The production opens Thursday and continues weekends through Jan. 16.
Based on the 1605 and 1615 novels Don Quixote of La Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes, the musical features some of Broadway's best songs — the idealistic Impossible Dream and romantic Dulcinea among them — and has a plot as intertwined and complicated as a triple helix.
In it, writer Cervantes (multi-HAMI-winner Bill Myers, Pickering in My Fair Lady, Jessup in A Few Good Men) has been thrown into prison after a disagreement with the Roman Catholic Church during the Spanish Inquisition.
He has brought with him the manuscript for a book he's writing and some theatrical costumes in a trunk, as well as his manservant (Dalton Benson, recreating the role he played in the 1996 version). The rowdy prisoners immediately begin dividing up Cervantes' belongings.
To prevent the destruction of his life's work, Cervantes asks the other prisoners to let him "buy" back his belongings by telling them a good story and letting them play the parts of the characters in his story. If they like the story, he keeps his stuff; if they don't, it's all theirs.
The author then assumes the character of the aging nobleman Alonso Quijana and his manservant becomes his sidekick Sancho Panza. The prisoners become characters in Cervantes' play: Alonso's niece Antonia (Rebecca Kroner), his Housekeeper (Karen Doxey) and a Padre (Wayne Raymond, who say they're concerned about their patron because of his obsession with chivalry (I'm Only Thinking of Him), as well as muleteers, knights, horses, dancers and assorted other people in the story.
The ailing Alonso has become convinced that he is a knight who must rescue his beloved Spain. He takes on the name of Don Quixote and sets off for adventuring. He mistakes windmills for monsters and battles with them, then mistakes a rundown inn for a castle, where he insists on being knighted by a puzzled but cooperative Innkeeper (Matthew Veasey).
The Don then meets the serving girl/prostitute Aldonza (Jessica Nichole, Eliza in My Fair Lady) and immediately declares she is his fair lady, the virginal Dulcinea. The cynical Aldonza thinks he's nuts.
The action moves from the delusions of Don Quixote to the manipulations of Alonzo's greedy relatives to the real world of Cervantes in the dungeon, where cruel guards occasionally stomp down the stairs to drag a screaming prisoner off to be tortured.
Even so, and despite a sad, melancholy ending, the ultimate message is hope and faith.
Man of La Mancha was an unlikely hit on Broadway, playing more than five years the first time around, winning numerous Tony Awards, including Best Musical of 1965, and revived on Broadway four times since then. It's a favorite of touring companies and community theaters, as well as their audiences.