By Carol Waterloo Frazier
Have you ever been accused of being an idealistic dreamer, someone who looks at the world through rose-colored glasses?
That’s how Don Quixote views life and everything around him.
His story — actually the story of Cervantes as told through the fictitious Don Quixote — is brilliantly told in Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera’s production of “Man of La Mancha.”
Every once in a while you see a show that stands out as one of the best. This is one of those rare shows.
Why? The cast is phenomenal, led by Ron Raines as Cervantes/Don Quixote. Explaining his story to others awaiting the Inquisition, he slowly and convincingly draws the audience into the tale. As he transforms from poet to idealist — literally on stage by altering his attire and adding a beard — the actor makes it easy to want to see the good in everyone and everything. While he is a powerful actor, he is a vocal dynamo doing an amazing job with “Man of La Mancha (I, Don Quixote)” and the powerful “The Quest (The Impossible Dream).”
As strong as Raines is dramatically, Greg Hildreth is great as Cervantes’ side kick Sancho Panza. His endless stream proverbs coupled with his innocent charm provides just the right amount of humor at the right time. The naivete shines bright on the light-hearted “I Really Like Him” where his agapial devotion to Cervantes is very clear.
Portraying a character like Aldonza/Dulcinea can be emotionally challenging but Jackie Burns rose to the ocassion — and then some. It’s exciting to watch her go from a sense of hopelessness and no self worth to seeing herself the way Quixote does — a woman of beauty and virtue. After his touching “Dulcinea” her unbelief that someone could feel that way about her she wonders “What Does He Want of Me.” Her dynamic performance will not soon be forgotten.
Jeffrey Howell does a nice job in two very diverse roles — the governor and the innkeeper. As the governor, he’s rather harsh and forceful. Change scenes to the inn and he portrays a much more lighthearted character. He’s fun when dubbing Quixote as the “Knight of Woeful Countenance.”
Others turning in good performances are Gavin Pamer as the Padre, whose crisp, clear vocals are a joy to listen to; Michael Misko as the Barber; and although his stage-time is limited, Tim Hartman creates a daunting presence as the Captain of the Inquisition.
The costumes are wonderful — including the two “horses.” The set is sparse but Cervantes uses the world as his stage, which allows the focus to be on the uber-talented cast.
CLO executive producer Van Kaplan is to be commended for presenting one of the best shows done on the Benedum Stage.