I do some cringing of my own when faced with the prospect of seeing Man of La Mancha again. The woeful Peter O'Toole movie was worse than any stage version I've seen since, dry and lumbering as a starved burro. But the current version at Halton Theater, starring Steven Jepson in the title role, is easily the best we've had.
Jepson manages the visionary blindness of Don Quixote better than any actor I've seen, never descending into buffoonery, and the distinction between the fictional quester and his creator, Miguel de Cervantes, remains sharply defined. He nails the three big tunes -- "Dulcinea," "Impossible Dream" and the title song -- and, with the help of musical director Craig Estep, almost gives the "Golden Helmet" song its intended charm. Derring-do indeed!
Robert Nipper is refreshingly grown-up as Sancho Panza, a welcome reminder that this sidekick wasn't birthed on TV with the Cisco Kid. Tom Hollis directs ably, keeping the tedium of the script at bay. He gets strong work from Doug Roaten as Dulcinea's tormentor, and Matthew Corbett sparkles in dual roles as convict Governor and fictional Innkeeper.
Adding a key emotional tug in the deathbed scene is Cindy Barringer as Aldonza/Dulcinea. She needs to be more hard-boiled in both roles -- and James Duke's massive set could stand some similar distressing -- but that's showbiz.