Applause fills the theatre as the orchestra plays a snippet of the monumental song everyone is fervently awaiting to hear. Before the act one finale, whispers ensue for the moment has descended upon us. By now, Davis Gaines has performed songs like “Dulcinea” beautifully, but the anticipation has led us to this scene in particular – the signature number from “Man of La Mancha, which opened Saturday night at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts. The song of course is “The Impossible Dream,” and truth be told, Mr. Gaines received as much admiration as the highly regarded number itself, evident by the enthusiastic chatter following his showstopping performance.
Gaines, who starred earlier this season in McCoy Rigby’s “Lend Me A Tenor,” welcomed huge cheers from the crowd as Miguel Cervantes/Don Quixote. Not only were his vocals sublime, but his performance – energetic, impelling and genuine, irregardless of which character incarnation he materialized. Gaines, perhaps best known for playing the title character in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera” was also victorious in “Man of La Mancha,” as his rich tenor remains utmost divine today.
Dale Wasserman, who wrote the play, “I, Don Quixote” and later the book for the stage musical was inspired by author Miguel de Cervantes’ 1605 novel. The play within a play retells the story of an imprisoned actor-tax collector currently awaiting his trial by the Spanish Inquisition. To appease his fellow inmates, he engages them with stories of the legendary knight errant, Don Quixote. Soon, he becomes dubbed the “mad knight” for his unconventional beliefs, but near the end his cell mates realize that conceivably ignorance really is bliss?
Joining Mr. Gaines on stage were many seasoned performers including: Roland Rusinek (Sancho), Rich Hebert (Padre), Gregory Butler (Govenor/Innkeeper), Jeff Skowron (The Barber), Michaelia Leigh (Antonia), Eric Stretch (Head Muleteer), Kailyn Leilani (Fermina) and the incomparable Nikki Crawford (Aldonza/Dulcinea). All provided magnificent performances, emoting strong vocals with an impeccable sense of humor and theatrics.
And yes there are other memorable songs in the musical written by composer Mitch Leigh and lyricist Joe Darion, though, none measure up to “The Impossible Dream.” In fact, the prolific number is a fine example of how the entire underpinnings of a show can be summarized in a well-written ballad.
Like Gaines, his co-star, Nikki Crawford was a smash hit. Crawford’s Aldonza was fiercely strong and seductive. Though her portrayal as a tough, no holds barred kitchen maid-wench was titillating, it was her representation of the beautifully broken love interest of Quixote that propelled her to greatness. Crawford’s gorgeous, versatile vocals and pitch-perfect tone could easily fill a symphony hall or Pop/R&B album on the Billboard charts.
While the performers were exuberant, the production team also exceeded themselves. Stephen Gifford’s set design was a fundamental part to the success of the story, giving us enough substance and allowing our imaginary senses to take flight. The stationary set, did include a movable staircase, reminiscent of a draw bridge, which was wondrously enchanting.
McCoy Rigby’s “Man of La Mancha” is a solid, crowd-pleasing production with a fantastic cast. The story reminds us to celebrate our imaginations, abolish cynicism and defy naysayers. So let’s all fight the unbeatable foe, reach the unreachable star and go see “Man of La Mancha” for you will be inspired to dream the impossible dream, however that may apply to your life.
“Man of La Mancha” is playing at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts now through June 25, 2017. Tickets are available by calling the box office at (562) 944-9801 or (714) 994-6310 or Order Online.
Photos courtesy of Michael Lamont