There are a lot of similarities between "Man of La Mancha," which is more than 25 years old, and the current global blockbuster, "Les Miserables."

Both focus on larger-than-life men who demonstrate immense compassion for the downtrodden and faith in the good of mankind - Don Quixote in the former and Jean Valjean in the latter.Both productions also are told against a rather depressing background - the hellish prison of "La Mancha" and the revolution-torn streets and sewers of Paris in "Les Miserables."

And both shows have been written to be produced on a grand, epic scale.

Whereas "Les Mis" was derived from Victor Hugo's epic novel, "La Mancha" is more biographical in nature. The musical was based on the life and times of Miguel de Cervantes, whose classic "Don Quixote" paralleled the misfortunes and philosophies of his own life.

WSU, for its annual spring musical production, brings "Man of La Mancha" to its huge Austad Auditorium stage with an impressive cast, exceptional production values and some stunning effects.

The leading roles of Quixote/Cervantes and Aldonza/

Dulcinea are played by guest artists Randolph Messing of New York and Kristin Hurst Hyde, Salt Lake City, a former WSU student. The brilliant baritone and sensational soprano are key elements to the successful staging of this dramatic musical.

The WSU performing arts students who round out the large cast are in top form, too, especially Dustin R. Brown as Sancho Panza, Cervantes' servant; Rock White as the governor/innkeeper; Ryan Lee Kemp as the Padre; and Gregory Duffin as Carrasco/Duke.

Director L.L. West has mounted a tightly paced production (although it still runs nearly two hours without an intermission), with good support from his artistic and technical staff.

Brian Jones' scenery is spectacular.

The massive setting is dark and foreboding, a prison that is as dreary and frightening as purgatory itself. Traditionally, in other productions of "La Mancha," a giant staircase is used to bring characters in and out of the prison depicted in the one-set show. Instead, West and Jones have created black, 28-foot high doors which dramatically separate the weak and oppressed from the strong and powerful. When the doors slide open (to an ominous, loud rumbling sound), the shaft of brilliant light piercing the darkness in the prison further punctuates the night-and-day differences between those who are free and those who are not.

Catherine Zublin's realistic costumes and Susan Seifert's dramatic lighting further enhance Jones' setting.

Musical director R.L. Wooden's 16-piece ensemble was in fine form, too. It appeared to be a mix of student and professional musicians.

- THE ONE COMPLAINT I have with this show, however, is a situation that I except could be quickly remedied. The harsh, bright light over Wooden's podium needs to be shaded more. It was very distracting, at least from where I sat, about two-thirds of the way down on the main floor. The stage setting itself is dark and eerie, making the conductor's light even more intrusive.

- AND ONE MORE THING: I have certainly learned my lesson about attending performances on "preveiw nights." Because "Man of La Mancha" has a short run, I felt it should be reviewed as soon as possible, so I attended a performance that had an audience comprised mainly of families and friends. It was open-seating and, unfortunately, the usual "no babes-in-arms" guideline also was apparently not in effect.

I discovered, unfortunately, that it's not easy paying rapt attention to what's happing on stage when an inquisitive youngster is constantly chattering directly behind you.

While this particular situation was a little disconcerting - "Man of La Mancha' itself was, by and large, a grand production showcasing some outstanding talent. It's certainly worth a drive to Ogden.