CENTERVILLE - There’s nothing more beautiful than a dream made real.
CenterPoint Legacy Theatre’s “Man of La Mancha,” running now through May 17, is a dream of a production that will forever be my ideal version of this musical. It’s insightfully directed, beautifully acted, creatively designed and gorgeously sung, with all of those aspects coming together to create a funny, moving and heartbreaking jewel of a theatrical experience.
For those who are only familiar with the image of a man tilting at windmills, the story actually starts with a man named Miguel Cervantes who is thrown into prison to await the Spanish Inquisition. The other prisoners want to steal his things and burn his manuscript, but he convinces them to let him perform the story of Don Quixote as his defense. The entire play unfolds in the prison, with set built out of benches and drawing the other prisoners into different roles.
Though other productions include elements of this, here the transition between the two is so effortless that I was lost in both stories. Kudos to directors Jennie and Josh Richardson for weaving them together so beautifully, using their joining to give even the story’s dark moments more dignity and hope than they would have had on their own.
Even more powerfully, they and the cast highlight the physical change in the prisoners, and even Cervantes himself, as they were caught up in the tale of Don Quixote. When Adrien Swenson’s nameless woman took up the role of Dulcinea in the Monday night cast, you could see the exact moment she gave herself over to her character by the change in her posture and the firming of her expression.
The acting all around was breathtaking. Swenson was a potent, powerful, painful mixture of courage, anger and fear, and Monte Garcia captured Sancho’s big heart and easy humor without ever letting him descend into buffoonery. DRU made the governor’s flashes of kindness believable, and Chantell Bender packed a delightful amount of attitude into a few brief scenes. Musically, everyone made the songs shine.
But the central jewel of the show was Rhett Richins, who played Quixote as if he were both entirely his own man and a dream sprung directly from Cervantes’ mind. I delighted in his Quixote, pure of soul and stout of courage even when he wasn’t sound of mind, and his singing rivaled any recording of the soundtrack you can name.
His Cervantes, though, I loved with my whole heart. The grief and bravado that played across his face in the moments between scenes, the courage as he fought for dreams he already seemed to know would not save him, was heartbreaking. In the end, he was perhaps not so much Quixote as he was Dulcinea, who here fights to keep the dream alive despite being fully aware of all the wreck and ruin that surrounded her.
I wept for them both. But in the end, they and everyone else who had a hand in this magnificent production made me believe.