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Marriott's amazing 'Man of La Mancha' turns cynics into dreamers

Brilliant reworking and superb cast make Illinois Marriott Theatre’s "Man of La Mancha" a show that will be talked about for years.

Instead of the full-blown scenery and costumes expected of a Broadway show, the Marriott version of the 1964 hit musical has a minimalistic set and an assortment of rag-tag clothes intermingled with a few basic props such as a mop and bowl.

Playwright Dale Wasserman, who adapted the show from his 1959 teleplay “I Don Quixote,” sets the main character and author Miguel de Cervantes in a cell with thieves and murderers while he waits a judgment from the Spanish inquisitors. But the scene is contemporary and not a 16th century dungeon. The point is that inquisitions are still with us.

Cervantes’ cell mates hold their own trial to determine if the author is guilty of foreclosing on a monastery as a tax collector, is a bad writer and is a dreamer and therefore should be punished.

He admits to being guilty. However, to mediate his sentence, Cervantes asks to entertain his cell mates. He does so with the script for “Man of La Mancha” and hands out parts to them so they can play the characters. Thus, the musical becomes a show within a show.

It works beautifully thanks to Nick Bowling’s direction, Jeffrey’s D. Kmiec’s set design, Nancy Missimi’s costumes and the talented cast led by Nathaniel Stampley as Cervantes and also knight errant Don Quixote.

Danni Smith is exceptional as the story’s prostitute who is seen by Quixote as his fair handmaiden, Dulcinea. Richard Ruiz is a delightful Sancho Panza and James Harms is the perfect Padre.

Mitch Leigh’s music and Joe Darion’s lyrics provide the story’s oomph with the spirited “Man of La Mancha (I, Don Quixote), the cynical “We’re Only Thinking of Him” and the beautiful “Dulcinea.” Of course, the “The Impossible Dream” is still the tearjerker that has everyone hoping that the wrongs of the world can be righted.