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By Michall Jeffers

It’s difficult to feel that we are not a cynical society. In this election year, we accept that presidential candidates are mainly out for themselves, and not for the good of the citizens of our country. It seems they’ll do and say anything to get elected, including verbally ripping each other to shreds. How wonderful it is to be reminded that it’s possible to stand for courage, honor, and an earnest quest to conquer evil.

Westchester Broadway Theatre is presenting a Man Of La Mancha that, in many ways, is darker than other productions we may have seen. The stage is physically dimmer, the dungeon inmates are frighteningly rapacious, Don Quixote (Paul Schoeffler) is extremely serious, and the fact that this Aldonza (Michelle Dawson) is fragile looking makes even her earliest encounter with the muleteers feel more ominous. Of course, we do have Sancho Panza (Gary Marachek), the faithful servant, to lighten the mood.

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It’s important to remember that Dale Wasserman, who wrote the book for this musical, considers this a play not about Don Quixote, but rather, about Miguel de Cervantes, the author of the book. Because Cervantes had Jewish ancestors, the Inquisition tried him under the “Purity of Blood” laws and excommunicated him. Here, a framework is created whereby Cervantes has been thrown into a cavernous, murky dungeon; he unfolds the story of the hapless knight, Don Quixote, to occupy the denizens, and prevent the burning of his novel. He suggests that everyone present should assume a role. The prisoners eagerly comply.

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On the properly nearly bare stage, Cervantes puts on a mustache and beard, and gets into character. Paul Schoeffler has a Shakespearean presence onstage, and when he sings, we are duly transported. His is a glorious voice which is unmistakably created for the big roles. He seamlessly bridges the gap between Cervantes and Quixote.  Michelle Dawson (who resemble the actress Jaimie Alexander) lets the audience see the vulnerable side of Aldonza; she is, without question, the gentle Dulcinea of Quixote’s imagination. It’s a joy to, once again, see Sarah Hanlon, here playing the niece, Antonia; she stole the show with her compelling portrayal of Julie in the WBT production of Show Boat. As Sancho, Gary Marachek is sweet and funny; his singing is effortless and excellent.

The score of a superb musical like La Mancha never loses its charm. The audience still thrills at old favorites like the title song “Man of La Mancha,” and Schoeffler’s strong baritone rendition of “The Impossible Dream” is a perfect Act I curtain.

Man Of La Mancha is inspirational; it allows us to hope that the dream of a better world is still worth holding onto, no matter what the odds may be. Is there a presidential candidate who sincerely wants to lead our country into an age of tolerance, equality, and optimism? And is this what the majority of Americans honestly want?  It’s up to all of us to determine whether or not America can reach that seemingly unreachable star.

Photos By John Vecchiolla

Westchester Broadway Theatre, 1 Broadway Plaza, Elmsford NY, 10526

914-592-2222,    2 hrs, 50 min, ½ hour intermission

Through May 1, 2016

Book author: Dale Wasserman; Music: Mitch Leigh; Lyrics: Joe Darion; Musical director: Patrick Hoagland; Choreographer: Michael Dauer

Director: David Wasson

Cast: Paul Schoeffler  (Miguel de Cervantes/Don Quixote); Michelle Dawson (Aldonza); Gary Marachek  (Sancho Panza); Geoff Belliston (Innkeeper); Ian Knauer (Dr. Carrasco); Sarah Hanlon (Antonia); Alan M-L Wager (Padre)
Ensemble:: Jose Antonio, Joanne Borts, Eric Briarley, David Cantor, Alan Gillespie, John Paul LaPorte, Gabriella Perez, Diego Rios, Dougie Robbins, Corinne Scott,  Joseph Torello.