The melding of darkness and bravura in "Man of La Mancha" at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center isn't revolutionary, but it's certainly resonant. Dale Wasserman, Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion's beloved Tony winner about the author of "Don Quixote" receives an engrossing Musical Theatre West revival, with director Nick DeGruccio's able cast spearheaded by the incandescent Davis Gaines and Lesli Margherita.
Popular opinion mistakes "La Mancha" for a musical about Don Quixote, but Wasserman's libretto explores how idealism survives totalitarian oppression, personified in hero Miguel de Cervantes (Gaines). Set in a grim Seville prison during the Spanish Inquisition -- strikingly designed by Kevin Clowes -- the concept deposits Cervantes and his manservant (Justin Robertson) into a den of lowlifes while awaiting trial.
The kangaroo court that ensues nearly ends "La Mancha" before it starts, with Cervantes' manuscript about an addled knight-errant almost burned by his fellow inmates. Until Cervantes proposes that he enact his "defense" by dramatizing his literary creation, pulling the prisoners into his charade. As musical director Matthew Smedal's orchestra begins the title number's driving vamp, Gaines slaps on old-age makeup, joins Robertson atop the revolving center turntable behind two horse-masked dancers, and onward to glory we go.
Years since his record-breaking turn as the Phantom of the Opera, Gaines' vocal instrument remains in thrilling estate, and his handling of the dramatic content is remarkable, particularly the eye-moistening monologue preceding his galvanic "Impossible Dream."