Updated: 5 days ago
The Quixotic Don Rides Again!
WESTMINSTER—SEPT 11, 2023
Call him brave. Call him foolhardy.
But like Don Quixote, that windmill-jousting hero and self-styled gentleman knight in a less than chivalrous age, Chris Caputo, whose baritone seems to cover everything around him in shivers and plush velvet, brings to the stage a noble and exotic fable, basked in consummate mastery.
That fact is none more prevalent than in his biggest moment in the show while playing Cervantes playing Quixote, as Mr. Caputo sings ''The Impossible Dream,'' one of the most pervasive anthems of uplift in showbiz history and a song that will presumably wail on for as long as there are piano bars.
The number begins prosaically enough, with Mr. Caputo handsomely delivering its opening verse to Melissa Cook, who plays the village trollop whom Quixote perceives as a virtuous damsel. Then, as so many others have done before him, Mr. Caputo takes an irresistible turn to face the audience and suddenly the theater is suffused with an undeniable grandeur that is peculiar to musical theater. Mr. Caputo, drenched in a convergence of spotlights, lets his voice reach for the heavens in reverberating, lump-in-the-throat melodiousness. His eyes take on a fanatical gleam, his spine seems to grow at least a foot taller and a dusty ballad suddenly sounds as if it had never set foot in Las Vegas.
Currently at the Rose Center Theater from September 10th through September 23rd and re-energized in colorful story-book form by a top-flight cast, this highly admirable production seems part of a bigger calling, with its outstanding design elements, lavish set, perfect-period costumes, crafted lighting and special effects.
Set in a prison during the Spanish Inquisition, “Man of La Mancha” finds Cervantes defending himself in a mock trial before his fellow inmates, who accuse him of being ''a bad poet, an idealist and an honest man.'' Cervantes, also a man of the theater, responds by performing the story of Quixote, with props and costumes from a battered trunk. And the magnetic Mr. Caputo brings the full measure of whimsical fable along with him, along with a good dose of rueful self-awareness, to a stage strewn with whips and chains and grave threats of Inquisitional wrath.
When Mr. Caputo breaks open his makeup case in a spotlight metamorphic scene, applies his magical shadows, contours and shadings and dons his armor, his features suddenly become a thin, gaunt elderly man with wild hair and crazed eyes, transforming in plain sight into the “mad” knight, Don Quixote.
The other main star of the story is the fiery Aldonza/ Dulcinea in the form of Melissa Cook, a little rough on the outside, but with a gentle heart inside, her days are divided into part-time server and part-time strumpet. Nevertheless, Quixote looks beyond her indiscretions and falls in love with her, becoming his “lady of honor,” renaming her Dulcinea. Among Ms. Cook’s powerhouse repertoire in the show are “It’s All the Same,” “Reprise: Dulcinea,” and “What Does He Want of Me?” all incredible numbers in which her raw emotions become razor-edged, showing masterful deliveries and execution.
Her character of a regularly abused firebrand hellion is played with just the right amount of sullenness, and presented as a complex woman trying to find her own self-worth and dignity in tough conditions. And Ms. Cook handily fills her mantle with layers of complexity. But instead of finding a life of decency, she is humiliated; there is a scene suggesting sexual mob violence against Aldonza from the defeated Muleteers in retaliation for her assistance to Don Quixote’s noble battle with them.
Tim Nelson (also musical director) has staged the show splendidly, with equal amounts of excitement and tears. His fast-paced, creative direction is electrifying, sharpening the focus of the piece by allowing the score to drive the narrative. Mr. Nelson also contributes greatly to the vocal prowess on stage with “To Each His Dulcinea” and “The Psalm,” among others.
Re-enlisting as loyal manservant Sancho Panza is the endearing Cliff Senior, the perfect naturalistic foil for Mr. Caputo’s quixotic dreams and a pivotal player. Together with his animated expressions and vocals, he gives the show levity, lifting the mood with numbers like, “I Really Like Him,” and “A Little Gossip.”
Much of the script’s dialogue seems etched in illumination, but is also punctuated with fulgurating retorts and rejoinders from the supporting cast. The narrative, both grand and intimate in the hands of this entrancing group, features some rather stunning and tempestuous presences, including Vincent Aniceto as an incredibly menacing Knight of the Mirrors (Dr. Carrasco in an effort to cure Quixote) in full, shining body armor, ready to do battle with the Don.
Tom Orr is the strong but fair Governor as well as Innkeeper, AKA: leader of the prisoners’ society in the dungeon, and his feisty, shrewish wife (the versatile Teresa Orr) both show off a vibrant vibrato in the number, “Knight of the Woeful Countenance.” The Inn’s servant girl, Fermina, is played perfectly by Avi Walton.
Additional supporting cast were made up of the finest players in Southern California, indicatively, Alexis Karol as the self-centered niece and Dr. Carrasco’s fiancée, Antonia (featured in “I’m Only Thinking of Him”), not to mention an amazing performance by housekeeper Kristin Henry, who sailed through “We’re Only Thinking of Him” with all eyes on her. On a more somber note, head muleteer, Pedro (Ray Tezanos), a mean and vicious man, leads the attack on Aldonza/Dulcinea (Ms. Cook’s purview), using a bull whip no less.
Among the other Muleteers doomed to the dungeon are Anselmo (Mikey Smith), Tenorio (Landon Mariano), Brett Popiel (Juan), and Taven Blanke (Paco).
Trevyn, as inmate Jose, also doubles as the comical barber who brings us the Golden Helmet (a shaving dish). His appropriately named “Golden Helmet of Mambino,” and “Barber’s Song” were highlights of candor and smiles in an already jaunty show. And all amidst a chorus of roguishly handsome mule-drivers and beautifully wanton wenches, along with the occasional Inquisitor. Add some great atmosphere, and you’ve got everything you want theater to be.
MAN OF LA MANCHA
WITH: Chris Caputo (Cervantes/Don Quixote), Melissa Cook (Aldonza/Dulcinea), Cliff Senior (Sancho Panza), Erik Duane (Captain of the Inquisition), Tom Orr (Governor/Innkeeper), Vincent Aniceto (Duke/Carrasco), Mikey Smith (Anselmo), Alexis Karol (Antonia), Tim Nelson (Padre), Kristin Henry (Housekeeper), Trevyn (Barber/Jose), Teresa Orr (Maria – Inn Keeper’s Wife), Avi Walton (Fermina), Ray Tezanos (Pedro), Landon Mariano (Tenorio/Moorish Dancer), Brett Popiel (Juan), Taven Blanke (Paco/Moorish Dancer), Laurel Brookhyser (Moorish Dancer/Prisoner), Bailey Curtis (Moorish Dancer/Prisoner), Sofia Aniceto (The Moorish Dancer/Prisoner), David Elliott (Prison Guard), Macaila Dorney (Prisoner), Erica Duane (Prisoner).
Presented by Westminster Rose Center Theater; Written by Dale Wasserman; music by Mitch Leigh; lyrics by Joe Darion; directed and musically directed by Tim Nelson; choreography by Jennifer Simpson Matthews; additional choreography by Trevyn Stephenson; technical direction, scenic, lighting and projection design by Chris Caputo; costumes by Jenny Wentworth; wigs by Cliff Senior; props by Sherre Titus; sound operators Rylie Herbel & Stu Selig; lighting operators Cat Sacksteder & Sharon Barnard; stage manager David Elliott.
"Man of La Mancha" is presented from September 10th through September 23rd, with performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30PM and Sundays at 2PM. For ticket information and reservations, call 714-793-1150, or visit the website at www.rosecentertheater.com.
Arts & Entertainment Reviewer
The Show Report