OREM — Man of La Mancha is, as far as I can tell, a musical that rarely graces the stages of our state. Perhaps this is because the margin of error on a classic like this is so thin. The music (composed by Mitch Leigh with lyrics by Joe Darion) is dated, the character names hard to recall (or even pronounce), and owing to the fact that Dale Wasserman‘s script makes the story a play within a play with all of the performers presenting multiple roles, Man of La Mancha is a vehicle that could quite easily become a spectacular catastrophe. I’m very pleased that this was not the case at Hale Center Theater Orem. Owing to the clear, decisive vision of director Dave Tinney, and the talented cast and crew he assembled for this undertaking, I was captivated from beginning to end.
There were several vignettes that were masterfully staged throughout the evening. The opening sequence established a clear tone for the production and I found it enchanting. The audience was introduced to the powerful system of in-bondage governance that ruled the dark, cold, hardened prison into which the hero, Alonso Quijana (deftly portrayed by Art Allen) is thrown during the Spanish Inquisition; along with his trusty manservant, Sancho Panza (played by Andy Hansen). The prisoners, led by Governor Brannon Killgo, immediately size Quijana up and put him on a trial of their own. His response, given that his profession is that of a theatrical performer, is to act out his defense, utilizing the other prisoners as his cast and set pieces. This sets forth the occasionally dizzying structure for the musical, and the audience is seamlessly pulled into the mind of Quijana and his alter ego, the great activist, raconteur and lover: Don Quixote de la Mancha.
Allen is exceptional in this role. His earnest and heartfelt performance carries the show throughout. He was a joy to watch, particularly in those moments where his character must immediately respond to difficult stimuli. His storytelling is powerful and compelling. The expert staging was such that I felt as though I was also caught up in this awful prison, witnessing the bizarre behavior of what we initially assume is the ranting of a mad man.
Hansen had several outstanding moments while portraying Sancho. His song, “I Like Him” was a particular high point of the evening. There were a few sections of the show where I felt his conviction lagging somewhat and wanted him to lend some of the big moments a bit more gravity. Otherwise, he was very enjoyable to watch, and I found myself wishing I had a Sancho to help me facilitate my wildest whims. Brannon Killgo fulfilled all of his various roles faultlessly. He was very believable and strong in his character work throughout the evening. The grouping of Daniel Fenton Anderson, Jonathan Fifield, and Andrew Robertson were called upon to fill many different roles as the show progressed, and they did so exceptionally well. Whether it was donning horse-heads and comically galloping about, singing in beautiful three part harmony, or becoming the most base, evil, and terrifying group of miscreants, this trio was well suited to the task and it was a thrill to watch their commitment to the story. Their rapt attention and instant willingness to support the tale being told was infectious and pulled me in as a witness.
As the story progressed, the audience was introduced to Anna Daines Rennaker who fills the role Aldonza/Dulcinea extremely well. Her performance in the earliest scenes seemed to me a little stiff and disconnected, but she warmed as the night went on and I was ultimately exceedingly impressed with what she was able to bring to the stage. Her conviction rang very true, throughout the second act especially, and her gorgeous voice was very easy on the ears.
Musically, Man of La Mancha is a very challenging piece. It houses two very iconic numbers: “The Impossible Dream” and “Man of la Mancha.” Outside of these two pieces, much of the music is unfamiliar to the majority of theater patrons and performers alike. I felt much of the score, and the backing track used, seemed dusty and could certainly benefit from modernization. At various points throughout the show, particularly in the beginning scenes, the performers seemed to be just off beat from the music and didn’t sync up to it quite perfectly. However, the skilled musical direction at the hand of Rob Moffat brought new life to the bulk of the musical numbers. All of the voices were very strong and quite beautiful. A particularly well-sung, staged and acted number I enjoyed very much was “Little Bird, Little Bird.” The chemistry between Rennaker and Robertson was palpable and exciting.
As is evergreen with Hale Center Theater the costuming (MaryAnn Hill), scenic design (Bobby Swenson), lighting and sound design (Cody Swenson) all flawlessly serve the story and push it forward. One of the highlights of the evening for me was observing the clever, bold staging and set choices that opened up this intimate space and made the show feel larger than life. Well done!
Ultimately, this is a magnificent opportunity to experience a near perfectly executed classic. I would certainly recommend that you take this journey with Hale Center Theater Orem and “Dream the Impossible Dream.”