REVIEW: "Man of La Mancha," — Rose Center Theater, Westminster

Updated: Oct 1, 2020

Still Tilting After All These Years

WESTMINSTER, CA—SEPT 27, 2020—

The Rose Center Theater, as part of their LIVE musical concert series for the summer, presented "Man of La Mancha in Concert" this past Friday and Saturday evening (September 25-26) as a one-hour, live, outdoor concept musical, bringing back most of the original cast from 2015. Based on a book by Dale Wasserman, the show once again starred the protean Chris Caputo as the mad, errant knight, Don Quixote/Cervantes.


The show imagines the poet Cervantes imprisoned, about to face the Spanish Inquisition. To save his writings from being destroyed by fellow inmates, he tells the story of an elderly man who believes he is a knight, who, with his faithful servant Sancho, heads on a quest to right unrightable wrongs and tilt at giants that look a lot like windmills. The result is a journey from the realm of reality into fantasy, illustrating themes of honor, nobility of spirit, chivalry, grace, courage and idealism.


Cliff Senior plays Sancho, Melissa Cook is Aldonza/Dulcinea, Alexis Karol is Antonia, Tim Nelson is the Padre, Vincent Aniceto plays a dual role as the Governor and the Innkeeper, Mary Murphy-Nelson is the Housekeeper, Garrett Brown is the Barber and a Muleteer, and Ryan Salazar depicts Anselmo, as well as a Muleteer.


And they did it fully masked, while keeping their prescribed distance as set by government mandates. In addition, the audience was spaced out in six feet intervals, all enshrouded with their required mantles and face coverings, some breathless in anticipation of this classic show, some breathless from lack of oxygen.


Yet, although technically considered a concept staging of a musical, it definitely did not have the orthodox approach as with many concert revues with actors standing in front of music stands like statues singing sterile oratorios. These “Rose Outdoors” players created a stirring, moving production that annihilated all expectations.


Beautifully sung and passionately orchestrated with as much movement as anyone can marshal from an outdoor set-less stage, this edition still managed to mine much of the beauty and heart from one of the most glorious scores and emotionally-affecting scripts in American musical theater. It was an immensely lush songbook in truth—a vibrant fusion of Joe Darrion’s verve and Mitch Leigh’s sumptuous melodies consummating a Latin-meets-Broadway zest—from the shimmering "Dulcinea," the gently roiling "It's All the Same," the stirringly contemplative "Barber's Song," to a fiery, passionate "To Each His Dulcinea," and the Carnival-esque rumpus of "A Little Gossip."


This rousing, Spanish-inflected music cameo creation, headed by director and musical helmer Tim Nelson, is so effective that by the end you yearn to see the even deeper, polished, and more opulent show that would have been offered, had we been in more flexible times. You would see, if memory serves me right, an elaborate 17th Century dungeon full of fellow prisoners awaiting trial by the inquisition, an array of colorful costumes and ruddy figures, a stage full of magical reincarnations as Cervantes directs his play within a play, and a theater ready and willing to channel those masterfully spirited and compelling sambas to the back of the room and then back again in reverberation. Ahh, those were the days.


But it’s hard to imagine how much better Mr. Caputo could be in his depiction of Miguel de Cervantes as he renders his hero’s song and commanding presence throughout the evening, portraying both despair and triumph simultaneously. Becoming indelibly intertwined with two characters at once, his full-bodied baritone resounded so superbly in the night sky, in fact, that seemingly the large Oak tree on the other side of the stage fence began swaying in unison.


That gentle breeze also served to limn the fervor in Darion’s lyrics as Mr. Caputo nailed the anthem, “The Impossible Dream”—one of the last Broadway songs to become a pop hit in the 1960s—underscoring the pure joy of someone who truly believes that the pursuit of ideals is the ultimate reason for existing. But when ardor flowed out of his mouth in the paean “Dulcinea,” both time and respiration stopped for this outdoor audience.

Playing opposite him as the world-beaten Aldonza, Melissa Cook gives a smashingly salient vocal performance. She is one of those rare singing actresses who boasts not only a full belt when needed, but a full soprano extension, and when Ms. Cook ends her