Spotlight: Man of La Mancha

It has been firmly established, through centuries of history and as documented by the arts in all their forms, that the world is a crazy place. Cervantes presaged modernity by writing the story of a Spanish landowner who responded to the unpleasantness of reality by going firmly, resolutely nuts--and who tried to recruit others to his cause. The novel has met with some measure of lasting success, as has the 1965 musical that used it as its source. This Nautilus Music-Theater production provides an excellent and knowing take. When the action gets underway, Cervantes (Bradley Greenwald) is thrown into prison and immediately set upon by his gnarly cellmates; he then stages an impromptu show of the Quixote to save his bacon. Greenwald, in fine voice, launches himself into the title role with a warped vigor that anchors the show. Soon enough Quixote has met the lady to whom he will dedicate his knightly adventures: Dulcinea (Ann Michels), also known as Aldonza, a self-described "kitchen slut reeking of sweat" (come on now, no bragging). Abetting Quixote's illusory exploits is, of course, Sancho Panza (Brian Sostek). Things are played differently for those whose experience derives largely from the novel: For instance Sostek is squeaky and abashed, rather than fat and cynical, as the world's most famous sidekick, and largely sells it well. The cast and three-piece musical accompaniment mesh (the tunes are pleasingly choppy and rhythmic), and Erik Paulson's set design encompasses the theater's high ceiling and broad stage. Ultimately, though, it comes down to Greenwald and Michels, and they're terrific. Michels nails Aldonza's earthy cynicism, while Greenwald's Quixote stares sweetly into oblivion whenever reality threatens to intrude. In the powerful numbers ("The Impossible Dream," the title song), he twitches with lunacy while intermittently tuning in to the charisma inherent in the character's mad greatness. This isn't a feel-good story, after all--it is precisely just after Aldonza embraces Quixote's vision that she is brutalized and almost destroyed. And Quixote himself is of course done in, as are we all, after his brief run of fun. Don Quixote, last hurrah. Last hurrah, Don Quixote.