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The catered pre-show meals at Starlight Dinner Theatre tend to be rather modest affairs with chicken or lasagna. I skipped the supper before “Man of La Mancha,” but when the musical started, I feared I might have skipped something like caviar, lobster, filet mignon or crème brulee. A show as lavish as this production of “Man of La Mancha” might have been preceded by an equally lavish meal.
A partial proscenium was the first layer of a four-wall “stone” structure. Near the final wall was what looked like real iron bars — that’s because they were real iron bars. The complex floor-to-ceiling set, designed by Tom Ferris, included a large, working door, a rear walkway and a short staircase. From scene to scene, it served as a dungeon, aninn, a courtyard, a castle and a deathbed. And it all fit neatly on a stage in the cafeteria of Waverly East Intermediate School.
Props and adornments designed by Jean Burk were so plentiful, including a ball and chain and wrist manacles hung on rear walls, that the nearly full house might have overlooked some. Other embellishments, like lifelike torches, mirrored shields and a log ladder, were undeniably delightful.
The multifaceted costumes created by Christine Kennedy were also elaborate. Detailed Spanish Inquisition-era outfits — including footwear, hats and helmets — outfitted a cast of 23, with some members changing costumes multiple times.
Lest you fear that it’s all window dressing, “Man of La Mancha” had some impressive actors and singers filling the stylish wardrobes and sophisticated set.
Martin Underhill, as Cervantes/Alonso Quijana/Don Quixote, stood above the other cast members — literally and figuratively. The tall man had a big voice and a commanding presence that he sustained through a show that ran just over two hours.
Bill Henson, as Padre, and Jake Przybyla, as Anselmo, also had vocals that stood out. So did Rachel Mender in the lead role of Aldonza, as well as Kelly Sandulua-Gruner as Antonia and Charlotte Ruppert as the housekeeper. The female voices often had an operatic quality.
This “Man of La Mancha” musical adaptation features a book by Dale Wasserman with music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion. The concept of fighting impossible battles and chasing windmills, of course, came from Miguel de Cervantes’ two-part Don Quixote novel — a book many of us struggled reading. To this critic, the novel was sometimes tedious and in need of condensing. This adaptation, unfortunately, suffered from the same problems.
“Man of La Mancha,” first staged in 1964, is based on a book written in 1605. But the play does have dashes of relevance, as well as slices of emotion and chunks of comedy. Several physical scenes — including an allout brawl — were lively additions.
A quintet of musicians, capably conducted by James Geer, competently complemented the combat with its collection of compositions, keeping the dark comedy’s crooners on key.
Years ago, director Linda Granger had the seemingly impossible dream of presenting this musical — the one that made “The Impossible Dream” famous — on her Starlight stage. “Man of La Mancha,” which required a cast and crew of over 50 to pull off, is truly a dream fulfilled.
“Man of La Mancha”
Starlight Dinner Theatre Friday, May 12 and Saturday, May 13 6:30 p.m. dinner/7:30 p.m. show Dinner and show: $39/$36 seniors and students/$23 children Show only: $18/$17 seniors and students/$13 children Waverly East Intermediate School 3131 W. Michigan Ave., Lansing (517) 599-2779, starlightdinnertheatre.com