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THEATER REVIEW

True to the windmills

The staging of `Man of La Mancha' at A Noise Within largely follows the source material, right down to the stage.

March 17, 2007|David C. Nichols | Special to The Times

Idiosyncratic authenticity attends the wild winds of fortune that buffet "Man of La Mancha" at A Noise Within. This chamber reading of Dale Wasserman, Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion's musical adaptation of Miguel de Cervantes has its quirks, but they largely serve a classic property.

For starters, the thrust stage recalls the ANTA Washington Square Theatre in Manhattan, where "Man of La Mancha" premiered in 1965. This darkest of inspirational shows transpires in a 16th century prison cell, suggested by set designer Melissa Ficociello's somber facade, and the venue's layout puts the action virtually in our laps.

Playing in real time without an intermission, "La Mancha" follows Cervantes (Geoff Elliott) as he enacts "Don Quixote" for his fellow prisoners while awaiting the Spanish Inquisition. Guitarist Kevin Tiernan strums a tremolo, musical director David O sustains a piano note, and the inmates appear, seated like courtiers preparing to observe a masque.

As designer Ken Booth's superb lighting shoots across the house, Cervantes and his servant (Alan Blumenfeld) wheel up the aisle in a cage. The ensemble springs to life and "La Mancha" hurls down its gauntlet.

It's a sparer glove than some productions, but director Julia Rodriguez-Elliott has her committed forces in trim. The pull of "La Mancha" stems from its juxtaposition of opposites, festive theatricality amid gravest circumstance, and Rodriguez-Elliott keeps light and dark in check. Costume designer Soojin Lee provides a dusky, Murillo-flavored wardrobe, and under David O's inventive musical stewardship, a staunch cast wields lean vocals to dramatic advantage.

Cervantes/Quixote proves an unexpectedly apt fit for Elliott, who subdues his tendency to grandeur when appearing as the author, then lets it fly as the knight-errant. Though Elliot's voice lacks originator Richard Kiley's lushness, he rallies his instrument with adroit phrasing, daring an upward variant at the end of "The Quest" that thrills the crowd.

This credible portrayal dovetails with Blumenfeld, a Sancho of brash sound and endearing inflection. As kitchen wench Aldonza, the elfin Nadia Ahern is less suggestive of a jaded trollop with inner nobility than Eponine from "Les Miserables," but her straight-toned investment is total and touching.

Gregory Franklin brings smooth purity to the Padre, and Steve Weingartner makes a riveting cellblock leader. Steve Rockwell compensates for slender vocals with consistent intent as adversarial Carrasco, Meaghan Boeing and Deb Snyder dig into Quixote's niece and housekeeper, and their colleagues heartily embrace their dualistic duties.

In certain numbers, the arrangements approach easy-listening radio, and the logistics required for some transitions are less than seamless. Nonetheless, the core idealism that drives "La Mancha" is intact, which along with the resourceful stagecraft recommends this poised revival.

*

`Man of La Mancha'

Where: A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale

When: Performing in repertory, see www.anoisewithin.org

Price: $34 to $38

Contact: (818) 240-0910, Ext. 1

Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

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