What if you could re-invent yourself without flaws and foibles and become the person you always wanted to be? That is what the lead character tries to do in The Ritz Players' production of "Man of La Mancha."
The musical is to be staged at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and Feb. 23 and 2 p.m. Feb. 24. This play-within-a-play by Dale Wasserman is based on Cervantes' novel, "Don Quixote." The music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion include memorable pieces such as "The Impossible Dream," "Dulcinea," "Knight of the Woeful Countenance," "Little Bird, Little Bird" and the title song, "Man of La Mancha."
Even before the overture begins, the characters straggle onto the stage into the common room of a Spanish prison. It is the late 16th century and the Inquisition has imprisoned many citizens, rich and poor, to await trial. One of them is the famous author, Cervantes, with his manservant, portrayed by Sean Joyce and Rick Frederick, respectively.
The detainees menacingly surround the pair and ransack the trunk the pair has carried in, only to find make up, costumes and props. With his life in danger, the author introduces himself cordially and requests time to plead his case for being allowed to live. He proceeds to dramatize a story, with himself and his servant in the lead roles.
As the story unfolds, other prisoners take various parts, including a horse and donkey to transport the heroes.
Cervantes becomes Don Quixote, an elderly knight errant, and his faithful companion, Sancho. Quixote imagines a windmill to be an evil giant and a rustic inn to be a castle. The scraggly patrons at the inn assume the old man is insane, especially when Quixote singles out the ill-tempered waitress, Aldonza (Mandy Bour), to be the lady to whom he devotes his exploits, renaming her "Dulcinea."
The rich voice of Joyce does justice to the part of Quixote and provides dramatic contrast to that of Bour's distraught Aldonza. Having suffered much, the woman hates her life and has developed a contempt for all males.
Frederick adds comic relief to many scenes with his facial expressions, physical humor and musical interpretations.
The story has many twists, turns and time changes, so the audience must pay attention.
Quixote's family is disturbed at his erratic behavior. Alycia Harrison, as the niece Antonia, fears she will lose her inheritance. Antonia's betrothed (Dan Bell) has misgivings about having a lunatic as a relative, and the housekeeper (Elizabeth Charlton) worries about her job and dashed hopes of marrying her master. The two women seek counsel from J.J. Aiello as the padre and perform a challenging trio, "I'm Only Thinking of Him."
Kelly Addis and Ann Gillig take the roles of the innkeeper and his wife who try to show hospitality to all. Joshua Harris portrays the captain of the prison guards and Nathan Morton is cast as the itinerant barber. Angela Smith plays the part of Fermina. The rowdy band of boarders who torment Aldonza include Jason Ferratus, Tony Ringle, Ben Kimmel, Scott Cook, John Spahr III and Brandon Allomong. They surprise the audience with beautiful harmonies on "Little Bird."
Puzzled by Quixote's overtures to her, Aldonza sings "What Does He Want of Me?" and tries to convince him she is a lowly servant unworthy of his admiration.
As the Muleteers come to harass Aldonza, Quixote and Sancho fight them off, but their victory gets them ejected from the inn. Before they depart, the innkeeper officially knights the old man. Even as he purifies himself for his quest, Aldonza is abducted and abused in a violent scene.
The story is interrupted by the prison guards dragging a man off to execution. Bell's character tells Cervantes he must face life as it is, with all its evil and filth, but the author disagrees: "Who knows where madness lies? Too much sanity may be madness."
The narrative continues as a band of gypsy dancers passes through the inn. All Heidelberg students, the dancers include Angela Amaya, Jamil Boldian, Desmond Hall, Dwayne Redrich II and Devin Williams. Together, they are known as The Hypnotic Dance Crew. The dancers rob Quixote and Sancho and make their exit. (The male dancers also double as prison guards.)
Bell, as Dr. Carrasco, devises a plan to shock Quixote back to sanity and return him to his home. The physician shows up at the inn, presenting himself as the mysterious "Knight of the Mirror," and forces the old man to look at himself in the harsh light of reality. Quixote falls ill and is carried home.
The plan almost works, until Aldonza shows up at the bedside. Although she has been ravaged and wronged, she can't forget Quixote's kindness to her, even if it sprang from madness. He has seen in her possibilities and goodness that have been clouded by despair. Her encouragement revives Quixote from a coma but also reminds him of the quest.
When he rises to resume his noble persona, he collapses and dies.
For her part, she says "Don Quixote is not dead" and identifies herself by her new name, Dulcinea. The impossible dream has been accomplished. The old fool has managed to elevate her life and leave behind a bit of goodness in a troubled world.
The action concludes as guards escort Cervantes to his fate.
"Man of La Mancha's" powerful story and message are enhanced by the skilled musicians playing a challenging score. Directed by Jeannette Painter, the orchestra includes Douglas McConnell, MaKenzie Honaker, Scott Edmondson, Gerald Schalk, Seth Innis, Cheryl Botton, Jeremy House and Howard Cole.
Director Jim Koehl has put together a stunning drama with assistance from an experienced crew. Sandy Kimmel, assistant director, and Jennifer Payne, stage manager, see that the scenes move along smoothly. Choreography is by Jamil Boldian and Lynn Talbot-Koehl, who also did sound.
Nancy Fisher is props mistress. Lukas Frey and Dinah Adams take care of lighting, getting a lot of mileage out of a simple drop, lighted with various colors. Anna Mae Terreault is the costumer and Scott Edmondson constructed the multi-level set. Brian Oldani added historically accurate restraints for the set.
Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students. The adult action and content are not recommended for children.
For tickets and information, stop at the box office, 30 S. Washington St., visit www.ritztheatre.org or call (419) 448-8544.