In a world where so many are stuck with the drudgery of routine, barricaded by their cubicle walls, confined to a small space where they are to stare in one direction incessantly, “Man of La Mancha” is more relevant than ever. At least for the short duration the musical lasts, it is the “madness” of knight-errant Don Quixote, who goes about his surroundings with child-like glory, that encourages us to awake from the modern ills that have blighted us. Immune to cynicism wrought by suffering, or the need to “properly” comport himself, Quixote gallantly sallies and strides forth right into our hearts.
Based on the 1605-released novel “Don Quixote” by Miguel de Cervantes, “Man of La Mancha” is written by Dale Wasserman, with music by Mitch Leigh, and lyrics by Joe Darion. It is currently playing at Pasadena’s A Noise Within theatre, where its run has been extended until June 4th. Superbly directed by the theatre’s co-founder, Julia Rodriguez-Elliott, this revival is paced terrifically, never overstaying its welcome throughout its 110-minute runtime, and endearing us to an exuberant man and his inventive imagination. The production also features a group of actors who are resourceful in how they help create settings and scenarios out of props (e.g., the innovative use of umbrellas to denote windmills).
A Noise Within’s other co-founder/artistic director and lead of “Man of La Mancha,” Geoff Elliott (husband of Julia Rodriguez-Elliott), moves the viewer with a brilliant performance that is a contender for best of the year. To see Elliott at work, laying everything on the line with hard-earned sweat matting his scraggly hair and beard – appearing like a blond “Macho Man” Randy Savage – is to be inspired by the craft of acting and how it can galvanize.
As the poet and tax collector Cervantes, who theatrically describes his engaging story in the holding cell awaiting his inquisition, Elliott is measured, sensible, and appeals his character disarmingly to the self-appointed “Governor” (Gabriel Zenone) and “Duke” (Michael Uribes). We see the fear in Elliott’s eyes as he skillfully conveys how unconscionable it would be to have his character’s manuscript of poetic work taken from him by his fellow prisoners. Though Cervantes’ trepidation turns into a slight confidence allowed by the permission to tell an impromptu retelling of Don Quixote’s events, Elliott is still expertly cognizant of getting across the fortune of being granted such an opportunity in the “court” of jail.
As Don Quixote, Elliott is an individual possessed by an inordinate amount of energy, his face feverish and bubbling while singing, hinting at an underlying madness that is not so mad after all, but a sanguineness about life that we should all have. Elliott is also incredible at emoting Quixote’s wide-eyed innocence that is uncorrupted by evil. One example of this is an exchange with the Barber (Andrew Joseph Perez), where Elliott, by sheer will of how he shapes his countenance with an entrancing awe, implores us to see what Quixote sees – a “Golden Helmet of Mambrino” out of a shaving basin (or gossamer fabric out of Aldonza’s dish rag). Elliott makes us want to believe in the fable of Don Quixote – a chivalrous leader bound unflaggingly by his quest and “impossible dream,” inured to the frailties of mortal men.
Cassandra Marie Murphy delivers a powerhouse performance of her own, inhabiting the role of Aldonza/Dulcinea with a fiery passion that impresses and rivets the senses. Whether her character is admirably fighting off the throng of voracious Muleteers at the inn (“It’s All the Same”), condemning the romantic missive Quixote has written for her, or heartbreakingly singing to Quixote about how she is more equipped to return hate rather than tenderness (“Aldonza”), Murphy makes sure to punctuate each moment with a compelling rawness. Her mighty belting voice is akin to a forceful plea to be understood, empowered by an industrial-strength independence that never relents. She is so spectacular that even her castmates seem to step out of their facades, if only for a millisecond, to acknowledge her audaciousness.
Furthermore, Murphy is excellent at imparting how Aldonza, as one of the most hardened of women, could courageously allow herself to be vulnerable, and to view the world for what it could be, as opposed to perhaps what it really is. Even so, Murphy doesn’t relinquish any of her persona’s intensity; in fact, she seems to be more in command as her vocal punches become tender hugs (“Dulcinea” – reprise), as Quixote’s love fills Aldonza/Dulcinea with the freedom to embrace the transformative power of good.
Playing the role of Sancho Panza/Manservant is Kasey Mahaffy, who is infectiously charismatic. He imbues his part with a modern flair, seemingly as a reflection of what the audience is thinking and feeling. He is Cervantes/Quixote’s friend, just as we are, and like him, we may not be able to logically explain why a 50-year-old man, likely with dissociative identity disorder, has won us over, except that we are simply fond of him. Mahaffy’s characterization also works as well as it does because he lets go of all inhibitions but is also very present with what is happening around him. This translates well into welcome comedic instances, as in when he responds, “nuh, uh” to Aldonza’s demand that he walk over to her again after she just got finished berating him.
Michael Uribes and Gabriel Zenone, who additionally portray Dr. Sansón Carrasco and the Innkepper, respectively, are highly effective in how they contribute to the musical’s dramatic and humorous scenes, and especially how we favorably perceive of Don Quixote. For instance, Uribes offers an unnerving rationalism to his character’s motivation for “helping” Quixote realize he is Alonso Quijana, which we find ourselves disagreeing with. And, the way Zenone offers an appropriate degree of compassion to his persona, who in his boxer shorts no less, amusingly knights and dubs Quixote with a new moniker, makes us smile in one of the show’s finest highlights.
Rounding out the magnificent cast of A Noise Within’s “Man of La Mancha” – one of the best surprises of the season – is Mario Arciniega as Juan, Jordan Goodsell as Anselmo, Cynthia Marty as Maria/Housekeeper, Tyler Miclean as Tenorio, Andrew Joseph Perez as Pedro/Barber, Jeremy Rabb as Paco/Padre, and Cassie Simone as Antonia/Fermina.
Undoubtedly, as co-founders of A Noise Within, the spousal team of lead Geoff Elliot and director Julia Rodriguez-Elliott, along with a team of talented actors and technical personnel, have succeeded in delightfully recounting the timeless tale of Don Quixote. They have done so in such a way that ennobles our minds and inspirits our hearts. Best of all, this rousing rendition of “Man of La Mancha” dares us to dream without apology and reminds us to embrace life’s silver-linings.
For more information about A Noise Within’s production of “Man of La Mancha,” please visit