As Petaluma temperatures reached record highs this Labor Day weekend, Cinnabar Theatre hit a record-breaking level of excellence with its opening of “Man of La Mancha.”
Set in a dungeon during the Spanish Inquisition, the show is centered on Miguel de Cervantes, a tax-collector, awaiting trial for having dared to foreclose on a church. Also a poet and playwright, Cervantes faces another trial from his fellow prisoners, who wish to seize his prized possession, a treasured manuscript. In order to protect it, he creates “an entertainment” for his defense, in which he enlists the prisoners to play the characters. Cervantes plays the main character, Don Quixote, a slightly delirious man who wishes to complete his “quest” of becoming a knight.
The set and lighting, designed by Wayne Hovey and Peter Parish, immediately gives a dark and sultry mood before the show even begins, as actors depict desperate prisoners. In slow-motion movements, they creep out from secret entrances beneath the set, creating a sneak-peak, 3D-storybook vibe for audience members as they make their way into the auditorium.
However, the show certainly does not keep those dark dungeon vibes for long. Daniel Cilli, as the combined Cervantes, Don Quixote and Alonso Quijana, exhibits his angelic operatic baritone singing voice in songs like “The Impossible Dream” and “Dulcinea.”
Daniela Innocenti-Beem, who plays Aldonza (dubbed Dulcinea by Quixote), gives more than an A+ performance. A kitchen maid and prostitute who wishes for a better life, Aldonza brings a high level of emotion to the show – whether it be anger, pain, sadness or hopefulness. Michael van Why plays Sancho Panza, the sidekick to Cervantes, and not only serving him, but serving as the comical aspect of the show, with his light-headed philosophical wit. Van Why’s rather cheery character — certainly an audience favorite — lightens the sometimes sinister mood.
The music is by far one of the show’s best features. Musical director Mary Chun certainly proves her genius in all the musical choices, setting the tone of the show. Kevin Neuhoff’s heart-beat-like drums sprinkle fear in the air as the prisoners await their possibly dreadful fate. Michael Goldberg gives a stellar performance on classical guitar, bringing the richness of Spanish culture to the proceedings. The magical ensemble also includes Daniel Gianola on trumpet and flute, Rod Verette on bass, and Marja Mutru and Ken Brill on keyboards.
Elly Lichenstein’s stage direction is excellent, particularly as the story transforms from imagination to reality, and vice versa, creating sensations that people usually only feel at Disneyland. The show is rich in underlying messages, challenging our views of reality and fantasy. As the show nears its close, and Cervantes is called to face his real trial, another message emerges as the poet-and-playwright finally understands the importance of facing the challenges that scare us the most.
What: “Man of La Mancha,” by Dale Wasserman, Joe Darion and Mitch Leigh.
When: Friday- Sunday through September 24. Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m.
Where: Cinnabar Theater, 3333 Petaluma Blvd. N.
Tickets: General admission: $38 (advance), $45 at the door; Seniors 62 and over $35 (advance), $40 (at the door); Under 30: $30 (advance), $35 (at the door); Under 18: $25 (advance), $30 (at the door).
Information and advance purchases: Call (707) 763-8920 or online at Cinnabartheater.org