The last time I was captured by a run of the musical stage story "Man of La Mancha," it was September 2009 when Theatre at the Center in Munster starred actor James Harms as the Don Quixote lead and earned standing ovations.
On Broadway, the original, written by Dale Wasserman, was the winner of five Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
And now, Harms is back again, once again as the imaginative dreamer in the guise of a knight who fights windmills center stage, for a new production by Light Opera Works at Cahn Auditorium on the Northwestern campus in Evanston for a quick run that only goes until Aug. 26.
Based on Miguel de Cervantes' classic book "Don Quixote," the stage version has been deemed one of the all-time great musicals of the American stage, beginning with the earliest Broadway incarnation with Rex Harrison as the planned lead (it turned out to be too taxing a role) and then Richard Kiley opening in the title role in New York in 1965, where it played for 2,328 performances and inspired United Artists Studios to make a feature film version in 1972 with Peter O'Toole, James Coco and Sophia Loren.
(Despite his often associated booming voice with singing the show's song "The Impossible Dream," the late, great Robert Goulet didn't step into the Broadway role until a national tour in 1997.)
With music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion, this month's production starring Harms is beautifully directed and choreographed by Rudy Hogenmiller, with a full orchestra conducted by Nyela Basney.
Set in a prison, where only dreams and fantasy allow for escape, Harms brings a wealth of compassion and depth of emotion to the role, with just the right amount of sidekick complement from actor Cary Lovett's loveable counterpart Sancho Panza.
But above all, it's actress Colette Todd as the spirited and languishing Aldonza, the tormented cook at a roadside inn-turned-lady-in-waiting, who brings a bounty of fresh unbridled talent with a booming songstress persona to the stage.
The accomplished cast also features Alex Honzen (Governor/Innkeeper), Edward MacLennan (Duke/Dr. Carasco), Bill Chamberlain (Padre), Peter Eli Johnson (Barber), Sarah Blevins (Maria), Jordan Yentz (Antonia) and Yvonne Strumecki (Housekeeper).
The design/production team includes Adam L. Veness' fantastic scenic vision, which showcases a dank, dungeon set complete with two drawbridges!
Jesus Perez shines with costumes, while Sienna Macedon-Kusek transforms with hair and make-up, all highlighted by Andrew H. Meyers' lighting and Chris Kusek's sound, rounded out by detail-perfect properties by Julie Eberhardt.
Tickets are $32 to $92 and ages 21 and younger are half price. FYI: (847) 920-5360 or LightOperaWorks.com
Performances this week are 2 p.m. Wednesday and 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. The run continues with 2 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 22 and 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 25 and 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 26 at 2 p.m. Cahn Auditorium is at 600 Emerson St., in Evanston, Ill.