By Katie Roundy,
Utah Theatre Bloggers
Published: Thursday, July 16, 2015

LOGAN – For 500 years, Miguel de Cervantes’ tale of Don Quixote has captivated readers. Now, half a century later, the Utah Festival Opera & Musical Theatre pays proper homage to the time-honored classic in their rendition of playwright Dale Wasserman, composer Mitch Leigh, and lyricist Joe Darion’s Man of La Mancha.

The production takes place in Spain during the 1600’s and tells the tale of Cervantes, who has been thrown into a Spanish prison. He is put on trial by the other prisoners and presents his defense in the form of a play. With the help of the prisoners–and his trusty servant–he shares the adventures of Don Quixote, a disillusioned man who, believing himself to be a knight, sets out to right all wrongs. The story explores harsh truths and how your perception can change your reality. The Utah Festival Opera cast gave a splendid performance, capturing the essence of this mythical journey. I found it not only entertaining, but also a perfect opportunity for reflection. As I saw the world through Don Quixote’s eyes, I began to question your view of the world. Do I see it as it is or as it ought to be? Do I see the potential in others, or just their faults? And most importantly, do I have a quest? For, according to the good knight, whether you win or lose does not matter, only that you find your quest.

The live orchestra played beautifully, helping to create the world of Don Quixote. Each member of the cast gave an enthusiastic and convincing performance, but the leads were especially good. Michael Ballam once again proved himself a jack-of-all-trades as Cervantes the author, who transformed before the audience’s eyes into the infamous Don Quixote. He also served as the narrator, moving scenes along and painting a picture of the knight’s visions. Ballam gave the part not only the gusto and complexity it deserves, but he also offered the vocals to do it justice–especially during the iconic “The Impossible Dream.”

Lee Daily portrayed Sancho Panza, Don Quixote’s ever-faithful servant. At first I found his character a bit too high-pitched and whiny. But over time he grew on me and fully embodied the dim-witted but loyal assistant. After all, he is a “fat little bag stuffed with proverbs.” Daily brought a fun side to the character and gave an endearing performance, especially during his rendition of “I Really Like Him.”

Jessica Medoff played the lovely Aldanza (or Dulcinea, as she is so lovingly called by the knight). She fully embraced the emotional journey of a woman who begins to see her herself not as the lowly town wench, but as a gallant lady. Jessica’s powerful voice perfectly portrayed the heart-wrenching journey.

Costume designer Misti Bradford helped create the time period with an authentic array of time-period costumes–complete with rips and tattered, dirty hems. Jack Shouse created a realistic looking prison that was versatile enough for each scene. The stage was raked (or, tilted), making it easier to see all of the action as it played out. Shouse also serves as the director, and took every opportunity to display the emotions involved in the journey. For example, after attacking a windmill, Don Quixote returns to the stage with a twisted sword and wind-blown hair, and stumbles around, bewildered for a moment–giving the audience a chance to enjoy the humor of the situation. But Shouse didn’t shy away from the difficult subjects, giving harder topics proper weight and timing on stage.

Although Cervantes narrates and guides the story along, it would be helpful to brush up on the storyline before seeing the play. (I studied up during the intermission and found it much easier to follow along after.) If I had one complaint, it would be the sound; I found it difficult to hear or understand many of the actors’ lines. I had to fully concentrate to follow along. Fortunately, all of the songs had projected subtitles, so I was able to keep up.

Still, this production of Man of La Mancha stands as a good reminder for each of us to choose to see more good in the world. Make the time to head up to Logan and catch this incredible show–then head out and discover your own quest.