Man of La Mancha still has impact at Arvada Center

Man of La Mancha, based on Miquel de Cervantes's seventeenth-century masterpiece Don Quixote, was an award-gobbling sensation when it was first staged in 1965. The musical has less impact now that it's been through decades of professional and community productions. Still, the Arvada Center has mounted a big, sumptuous show, filled with rich and exciting voices. See also: - Photos: The Arvada Center unveils Art of the State - Phamaly's Man of La Mancha is impossibly good - Man of La Mancha makes magic at Country Dinner Playhouse

The action consists of a play within a play. At the beginning, author Cervantes descends into a murky dungeon filled with threatening figures. He has been imprisoned by the Spanish Inquisition, but his immediate problem is the hostility of his fellow inmates, and he offers them a deal that mirrors the Inquisition ordeal itself: He will tell them a story. If they like it, they will leave him and his possessions -- including the manuscript for Don Quixote, which they've already threatened to burn -- unharmed. They agree, and he acts out the novel with their help.

Don Quixote, of course, is about a deluded old gentleman who has read so many books about chivalry that he believes himself a knight of old. He sets out on a quest to vanquish evil and find his heart's true love.

Cervantes was no stranger to hardship, and this accounts for the darkness as the edges of this essentially sunny and optimistic musical, a darkness that director Rod Lansberry has honored in the Arvada Center's production. There are several first-rate performances in smaller roles, and the leads are excellent.

William Michals's Cervantes comes across more big-chested musical star than deluded and quixotic old man -- but oh, his voice. Powerful, nuanced, expressive and rich, that voice alone lifts this show into the stratosphere.

Man of La Mancha runs through April 14 at the Arvada Center, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, with shows every day but April 8; after the performance at 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 5, there will be a talk-back session. For more information, call 720-898-7200 or go to arvadacenter.org.

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