Strong talent marks ‘Man of La Mancha’

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NORWAY – An excellent “Man of La Mancha” cast delivers some powerful lessons about faithfulness to ideals in the current Oxford Hills Music and Performing Arts Association production.

Strong vocal talent is matched by impressive acting skills in this ingenious retelling of Don Quixote’s quest for honor and justice in an imperfect world. Under the direction of Sally Jones, every performer makes a meaningful contribution to the show’s musical and dramatic richness.

It was a big step for this small-town theatrical organization to tackle the challenge of musical theater. They succeeded, and they are being rewarded with standing ovations from sell-out audiences. The show’s remaining performances are Thursday through Sunday at the Norway Grange.

“Man of La Mancha” takes place in Spain of the 1500s. It’s presented as a play-within-a-play with author Miguel de Cervantes thrown into prison to await a hearing before the Spanish Inquisition, and possible execution. As prisoners stage a mock trial to claim his possessions, Cervantes demands a defense in the form of a story to be played out by all in the dungeon.

As the story unfolds, with Cervantes transformed into the mad knight, the prisoners and the audience are transported by the magic of imagination through Don Quixote’s idealistic misadventures with his faithful squire, Sancho Panza.

Steve Jones is outstanding in the triple characterizations of Cervantes, Don Quixote and Alonzo Quijana. The play is best known for “The Impossible Dream,” and the familiar song is given an inspiring rendition by Jones.

Even better is his beautiful delivery of “Dulcinea,” a love-is-blind serenade to the amoral barmaid Aldonza.

Carol Brown performs the demanding role of Aldonza/Dulcinea with skill and sensitivity. Her musical numbers include “It’s All the Same,” a bawdy taunt to the lusty muleteers at the inn, and “What Does He Want of Me?” in which she tries to understand Don Quixote’s bedazzled view of her squalid life.

Elton Cole, a veteran of many OHMPAA comedies, has the role of Sancho Panza, and he plays it to the hilt. Cole’s comic instincts are delightful, and his portrayal of the steadfast servant and friend is excellent.

Among this show’s special joys are the frequent gems of characterization that come from cast members in secondary and minor roles.

Michael Davis is the Padre, and he skillfully handles both comic moments and serious musical and dramatic scenes. “I’m Only Thinking of Him” is a witty trio with Davis between Alonzo’s niece (Tracy Ludwig) and her fiance (Steve Sessions) in the confessional booth. Davis also displays his fine vocal capabilities as he sings the contemplative “To Each His Dulcinea.”

Ensemble numbers are well- staged. The muleteers are menacing in the suggestive “Little Bird, Little Bird,” and hilarious as they are soundly trounced in the combat scene.

Other notable performances are given by George W. Waterman as the governor/innkeeper; Dennis Twitchell as Pedro, the head muleteer; Steve Session as the duke/Dr. Carrasco/the Knight of the Mirrors; Tom Littlefield as the barber; Alison K. Whitney as the housekeeper; and (under heads of a horse and a mule) Chris Alberi and Ian Griffith.

The six-piece orchestra led by Jeremy Hill, the show’s musical director, does a very good job. Special recognition should go to Matt Curie, whose guitar playing added flavor to several scenes.

Performances at Norway Grange Hall, 15 Whitman St., are at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, Nov. 20-22, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 23.

Tickets are on sale at Books N Things in Norway.

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