Classic musicals are chancy to stage because their reputations precede them. Mount a production that’s too faithful to previous ones, and the whole enterprise can come across as eminently skippable.
On the other hand, an approach that’s too offbeat may be more than the material can bear. The challenge of staging a revival is hitting that sweet spot between familiarity and freshness. And with its production of “Man of La Mancha,” running through Oct. 6, Stages St. Louis has scored a bull’s-eye.
The action revolves around real-life Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes (James Patterson) — who is best known for “Don Quixote,” a landmark in world literature. The novel about the adventures of a crazed nobleman who believes he’s a knight inspired the word “quixotic.”
With a book by Dale Wasserman, music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion, the musical imagines Cervantes being consigned to a dungeon during the Spanish Inquisition.
Menaced by his fellow prisoners, he persuades them to join him in staging a play, casting himself as his destined-to-be-famous creation. With Sancho Panza (Patrick John Moran) at his side, Quixote is on a romantic quest that couldn’t be more different from the stark reality facing Cervantes.
In his imaginary world, the mad knight is free to imagine that Aldonza (Amanda Robles), a rough-hewn prostitute, is actually a regal lady named Dulcinea. And that few things are more important than chivalry.
Neither a strict biographical treatment of Cervantes nor a straight adaptation of his classic novel, “Man of La Mancha” is best appreciated as a celebration of the transcendent power of art.
Director Michael Hamilton deftly negotiates the show’s parallel structure while eliciting strong performances. And the score is simply wonderful, including a song that has become a standard: “The Impossible Dream.”
Patterson commands the stage with equal parts gravitas and grace. Robles is entrancingly charismatic as Aldonza. And as Quixote’s sidekick and Cervantes’ manservant, Moran exudes comic confidence.
“Man of La Mancha” is a sheer joy and a show that brings this Stages season to a triumphant close.