Sterling performances make Hale Orem's 'Man of La Mancha' exhilarating

Published: Monday, June 30 2014 3:07 p.m. MDT

Updated: Monday, June 30 2014 3:07 p.m. MDT

“MAN OF LA MANCHA,” through Aug. 9, 7:30 p.m., with 3 p.m. matinees most Saturdays; Hale Center Theater Orem, 225 W. 400 North, Orem; $11-$21 (801-226-8600 or haletheater.org/theater)

OREM — After hearing “The Impossible Dream” performed on a concert stage, many may proclaim it their favorite song for the simple yet majestic way it encourages achievements beyond capabilities.

To hear “The Impossible Dream” in its dramatic context is uniquely exhilarating.

The Hale Center Theater Orem production of “Man of La Mancha” captures splendor and wisdom to make the classic work of musical drama richly satisfying and wholeheartedly inspiring.

Because of its play-within-a-play format, in which the author Miguel de Cervantes plays elderly Alonso Quijana, who envisions himself as Don Quixote de la Mancha (and later is mockingly dubbed Knight of the Woeful Countenance), “Man of La Mancha” can be a challenge to stage. Another visionary, director-choreographer Dave Tinney, brings great clarity to the tangled storytelling that includes flashbacks and fantasy sequences, and he firmly assists the actors in tackling their roles.

“Man of La Mancha” cannot be memorable without a worthy Cervantes/Quixote, and Art Allen is splendid. A Mormon Tabernacle Choir member and soloist at Lex de Azevedo and Michael McLean performances, Allen handles the demanding baritone role with confident grace. But it is the charming facets he brings to the characters that pull audiences into the story. With a keen understanding of the role (after two previous runs), he effortlessly communicates fear, resourcefulness, idealism and abandonment, along with a twinkle of joy.

As the vulgar scullery maid whom Quixote envisions as a virtuous noblewoman, Anna Daines Rennaker is also remarkable. Throughout her performance, the audience can believe her character has lived an incredibly tortured life, as the muleteers describe in “Aldonsa.” While the cruelty happens offstage, when Rennaker returns horrifically bloodied and battered after "The Abduction," there’s no question the suffering she has endured. This makes her transformation additionally poignant and her redemption wholly believable. Vocally, Rennaker is emotive and exquisite. She offers lilting beauty to her reprise of “Dulcinea,” while “It’s All the Same” and “What Does He Want of Me?” are gritty proclamations.

Andy Hansen shows affectionate loyalty as manservant Sancho Panza. He subtly performs “A Little Gossip” with its cherished line: “Whether the stone hits the pitcher or the pitcher hits the stone, it's going to be bad for the pitcher."

Other impressive performances include those of Brannon Killgo as Governor/Innkeeper and Daniel Fenton Anderson as Pedro. As Quixote’s Knight of the Mirrors adversary, Patrick Kintz is terrifyingly malevolent. As Anselmo, Andrew Robertson sings a lovely “Little Bird, Little Bird” that is especially attractive with its live solo guitar accompaniment.

Rob Moffat contributes to the success of the production with his strong music direction. Each cast member sings strongly and with nice precision.

Between the sterling performances and the production design, which includes Bobby Swenson’s scenic design and MaryAnn Hill's costumes, it’s difficult to conclude which element is more rewarding.

Because a large spectacle can often traduce the beauty of “Man of La Mancha,” the Hale Orem's intimate, in-the-round stage works incredibly well. It nearly becomes immersive theater, with front-row viewers cautious of horses trotting near their feet.

Content advisory: Brutality.

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