With “Don Quixiote” celebrating its 500th anniversary this year, can a revival of the popular 1960s musical “Man of La Mancha” be far behind? Yet in the gifted hands of Court Theatre artistic director Charles Newell, this is no ordinary knight of musical theatre. Newell and his extraordinary ensemble pull no punches in exploring the darkest corners of “La Mancha” and never cease to remind us that the entire proceedings are taking place inside the bowels of a prison during the Spanish Inquisition where novelist Cervantes is pressed into spinning tales of his knight errant to save his manuscript from being destroyed by his fellow prisoners. Used as a mere framing device in most productions, these inmates are powerfully used here not only to assist Cervantes in his storytelling—which they do in a frightening manner consistent with lost souls locked away in despair—but also constantly serve as lively and involved spectators on the edge. Indeed, watching them watch the show is almost as entertaining as the show itself. With a booming baritone that radiantly resonates whether acting or singing, Herbert Perry is extravagantly cast as Cervantes/Quixote. “Why do you do these things?” incredulously asks the prostitute Aldonza, played by Hollis Resnik, whom Quixote thinks is a lofty virgin named Dulcinea. Quixote can respond only by singing the show’s signature song, “The Impossible Dream,” which we powerfully experience though her hopeless eyes. The grittiness of the production illuminates what can pass for pedestrian material in more exuberant stagings and invites inevitable comparisons to modern-day Guantanamo Bay. (Dennis Polkow)
“Man of La Mancha” plays through November 6 at the Court Theatre, 5535 South Ellis, (773)753-4472.