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Man of La Mancha

MusicalFare does not venture into the classic Broadway musicals all that frequently. When they do, however, it often seems like a special occasion. Based on Miguel de Cervantes’ 17th century novel, Don Quixote, the musical Man of La Mancha is the 1965 musical that established the Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut as a major incubator of American musicals. This show gives us the anthem to ethics and lofty aspirations, “The Impossible Dream,” as it recounts the story of its title character’s imaginative adventures titling at windmills and righting all wrongs.

MusicalFare has tapped into the show’s play-within-a-play structure to fashion a very hip production in which the actors also play the musical instruments.

This Man of La Mancha has an agreeable roughhewn and handmade quality. John Fredo plays Don Quixote and endows him with a powerful voice and irrepressible charm. Lisa Ludwig plays Aldonza, the servant girl/prostitute who he chooses to be his idealized lady, and John N. Kaczorowski plays Sancho Panza

Director Randall Kramer has gone against type with Ludwig and Kaczorowski. The latter is, certainly the slimmest Panza I have ever seen, but his casting affords the character mercurial charisma. Svelte Ludwig has to make an effort to become the slatternly Aldonza, but again, she has the acting chops for the task. By giving Aldonza a harsh speaking and singing voice, Ludwig reveals a tough and downtrodden woman. Only Quixote can see through her life circumstances to the goodness and beauty within, and this choice heightens the drama. These are deceptively deft performances.

The challenge of Man of La Mancha is always the show itself. While the score is thrilling, its meta-theatrical structure (Cervantes is supposed to be staging the story in a prison, using his fellow prisoners while waiting to be summoned by the Spanish Inquisition) seems hokey. This production overcomes this hurdle better than most, or at least allows us to forgive it.

The supporting company is strong and features Todd Benzin, Sheila Connors, Casey Denton, Paschal Frisina III, Robert “Ernie” Insana, Amy Jakiel, and Theresa Quinn.

Man of La Mancha continues through November 29.