A Powerful “La Mancha” in Orange

By Tom Titus

Sharp characterizations and strong singing voices combine to make the revival of “Man of La Mancha” by Party by Number Entertainment a memorable production at the Village Theater in Orange.

With director Sergio Candido taking the leading role of Cervantes/Don Quixote, bringing his two decades of musical theater experience to the fore, his “La Mancha” is worth a much longer engagement than its scheduled two weekends (closing Oct. 26).

The show is marked by passion and fervor except, curiously, in its scenes depicting physical action. Nevertheless, the vocal strength displayed by its principal actors make it a rich theatrical experience.

Candido is a more robust figure than those who generally step into Don Quixote’s boots, but he alternates splendidly in the scenes depicting bravado and inglorious defeat. He also receives some splendid support, particularly from Vanessa Cedeno’s fiery kitchen wench Aldonza.

Cedeno possesses the character’s required beauty and sensual appeal, and her singing voice bursts with a ringing operatic quality. Added to this is a smoldering resentment of her station in life which she thrusts into Quixote’s face in her terrific solo, “Aldonza,” late in the show.

Quixote’s addled but agreeable squire, Sancho Panza, is enacted with a giddy sense of fidelity and servitude by Randy Calcetas, who brings an appreciable lighter touch to the role. He properly conveys the impression of a fellow who’s half into fantasy and half mired in reality.

A particular bastion of supporting strength is John Espino, who plays the powerful yet compassionate Dr. Corrasco, engaged to his adversary’s niece. Espino underscores his inner concern, even while overcome the mad knight in battle, and contributes a particularly strong singing voice.

Two minor characters who ascend into memorable figures are the harried innkeeper and his obstreperous wife. Frank Valdez skillfully balances between accommodation and opposition, while Norma Jean, startlingly uglified, may overplay her screeching harridan at times, but she’s truly effective.

James Gomez has a comical turn as the barber who loses his “golden helmet” to Quixote, while Gordon Buckley is fearsome as the chief muleteer. Matt Koutroulis generates a calm resolve as the padre and Tayler Noel Hayes is engaging as the niece, Antonia.

As for the physical action scenes, they are disappointing primarily because the balance of the production is so well done. Both the combat and abduction sequences are given short shrift compared to the choreography of previous versions of the show.

Musically, this “La Mancha” is a winner, with musical director David Diiorio helming a splendid combo, punctuated by fierce trumpet and drums. Choreographer Lauren Ross exhibits some engaging numbers, though the pre-show dance sequence is somewhat superfluous.

“Man of La Mancha” is one of the musical theater’s modern classics and this production does its creators proud. Closing performances will be given Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 7, and Sunday at 5 p.m. at the Village Theater, 1140 N. Tustin Ave. in Orange. Call (714) 316-8826 for ticket information.

– tt –

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