There’s nothing like a rainy day matinee at the theater. In the middle of the week yet. So, under those unusual circumstances, off I went to the Welk Resort Theatre in Escondido, which is presenting the Broadway chestnut Man of La Mancha. It’s a faithful staging of the 1965 musical, which was adapted from Dale Wasserman’s original play written for TV called “I, Don Quixote.” Faithful as in costumes evoking 16th-century Spain, cartoonish stage fighting and, inevitably, the anthemic “The Impossible Dream (The Quest).”
Long before the wave of Cameron McIntosh/Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals that were carried by one good song, there was Man of La Mancha (music by Mitch Leigh, lyrics by Joe Darion), whose “The Impossible Dream” remains stirring almost no matter who sings it (in the Welk’s production, it’s star John LaLonde) or what time of the day it’s sung (evenings or matinees). The remainder of the score is diverting at best, with a couple of numbers – the comic relief of Sancho Panza’s “A Little Gossip,” the muleteers’ “Little Bird, Little Bird” – filler, nothing more.
As to the story, the play-within-a-play allows the actor portraying Miguel de Cervantes all the elbow room he needs to exude bug-eyed madness and idealism, and LaLonde takes full advantage. He’s complimented by Natalie Nucci as the bitter and beautiful prostitute Aldonza, whom Don Quixote romanticizes as his “Dulcinea.” As sidekick Sancho Panza, Daniel Berlin comes off like a young Dom DeLuise, or should we say Don DeLuise?
One of the more inventive, and charming, aspects of the Welk’s Man of La Mancha is that the live music is performed by the actors on the stage: acoustic guitars, a flute, percussion instruments. The double duties are managed seamlessly, and the instruments of choice ensure that the score doesn’t become bombastic, even during “The Impossible Dream,” which closes the first act.
The set is crowded but not claustrophobic, and in these confines the Act 2 ravaging of Aldonza by the muleteers feels all the more disturbing. It’s an apt moment to remember that “The Impossible Dream” will reprise at the finale and brighten the darkness.
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.