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Critic’s Choice: Marriott’s ‘Man of La Mancha’ enchants

“Man of La Mancha,” in a revival at Marriott Theatre, still has the chops to thrill audiences – 51 years since its strong debut on Broadway.

Taking a cue from 15th century Spanish novelist Miguel de Cervantes and based on a book by Dale Wasserman, the upbeat musical, whose principal song “The Impossible Dream” never fails to bring down the house, is an ode to optimists everywhere.

Director Nick Bowling keeps the production’s momentum in high gear by eliminating an intermission. The show, which features inspired music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion, runs about one hour and 50 minutes. Ryan T. Nelson provides musical direction.

Set in a detention facility where prisoners await trail during the Inquisition, “La Mancha” is staged as a play-within-a-play based on Cervantes’ “The Adventures of Don Quixote,” in which a would-be knight engages in a quest to restore chivalry, fight against all evil and right all wrongs.

Nathaniel Stampley brings an operatic voice to the dual roles of writer-actor-tax collector Cervantes and Don Quixote. To pass the time and curry favor with restless fellow inmates, Cervantes presents his play about a heroic warrior dubbed Knight of the Woeful Countenance. Various members of the motley assembly assume the play’s characters as the story unfolds.

Richard Ruiz is transformed into Sancho Panza, Don Quixote’s faithful if sometimes bewildered squire who doesn’t always see things the same way as his master who is known to fight a windmill mistaken for a hostile giant and a shiny barber’s basin deemed a precious Golden Helmet.

Through Don Quixote’s special vision a shabby roadside inn becomes a castle where Aldonza (a first-rate performance by Danni Smith), a kitchen servant and prostitute, receives a new identity as Dulcinea, a fair virgin whose honor Quixote declares himself the No. 1 defender.

Also appearing are Jonathan Butler-Duplessis as Scorpion/Pedro; Lillian Castillo as Graciosa/Antonia/Moorish Girl’ Bobby Daye as Barber/El Medico/Moorish Pimp; James Harms as Padre/Judas Macabeo; Andrew Mueller as Anselmo; Matt Mueller as Duke/Carrasco/Knight of the Mirrors; Cassie Slater as Mother Bane/Innkeeper’s Wife/Housekeeper; Craig Spidle as the Governor/Innkeeper, and Brandon Springman as the Gypsy/Jose.

The production features set design by Jeff Kmiec, costume design by Nancy Missimi, lighting design by Jesse Klug, sound design by Bob Gilmartin.