WESTON >> Weston Playhouse Theatre Company opened its 80th Anniversary Season on its main stage with "Man of La Mancha," the 1965 smash hit featuring songs such as "The Impossible Dream" and "Dulcinea." In doing so, it recruited several faces familiar to theatregoers to inhabit the world created by author Miguel de Cervantes and playwright Dale Wasserman. Last Thursday's preview performance demonstrated how this powerful musical continues to inspire all to "march into Hell for a heavenly cause."
The play opens in the late 1500s with the character of Miguel de Cervantes and his servant deposited in a dungeon to await trial before the Spanish Inquisition. The denizens of that dark place quickly seize his possessions, including the manuscript of "Don Quixote de La Mancha." To prevent the work from being destroyed, Cervantes employs the thieves, whores and murderers in his midst to play those his knight errant encounters, reserving the role of Don Quixote for himself.
Geoffrey Wade first portrayed Cervantes/Don Quixote in Weston's 1973 production, which also featured younger versions of Director Tim Fort and Producer Steve Stettler. Now an accomplished stage actor, Wade no longer requires the amount of make-up he presumably did back then. He easily invoked the pathos, the hard luck and failures of age that confronted but never defined a character who jousted with windmills and insisted on "never allowing facts to get in the way of the truth." His soft, almost spoken interpretation of "The Impossible Dream" exhibited the nobility and grace of one who, if foolish, was foolish for the best of reasons.
Michael Mendez's joyful turn as Don Quixote's faithful squire, Sancho Panza, added comic relief to the proceedings. Sancho's unabashed loyalty to his master was on full display in the song "I Like Him."
Marissa McGowan was a wonder. Portraying the scullery maid Aldonza, who, before encountering Don Quixote, found "all life to be a dungheap," she flaunted her character's rough ways. Eventually, McGowan showed how simple kindnesses from Quixote allowed Aldonza to find hope where there was none. McGowan's clear, sweet soprano rendering of "Dulcinea" at the end of the play was heartbreakingly beautiful. I did not want her to stop singing.
Thursday Farrar and Allen Kendell, fondly remembered for roles in Weston's production of "Kiss Me Kate," reminded their audience just how seasoned professionals can take smaller parts and make them special. Kendell's and Farrar's precise diction and harmonies as the muleteer turned Padre and housekeeper were welcome additions. David Brummel, as the innkeeper reluctant to feed a crazy old man and his servant, was another. Brummel, last seen on Weston's stage as Tevye in 2012's "Fiddler on the Roof," knows bemusement.
Scenic Designer Jim Sandefur and Lighting Designer Travis McHale created a steamy, dank dungeon set of stone, complete with drawbridge to the outer world. Kudos, too, to Costumer Kirche Leigh Zeile, who created delightfully simple headdresses for the pair portraying horses, and to Choreographer Angelo Fraboni, who devised amazing equestrian leaps and gallops.
Performances of "Man of La Mancha" continue at the Weston Playhouse through July 16. For ticket information, call the WPTC box office at (802) 824-5288 or visit its website at www.westonplayhouse.org.