If ever a role and a North Coast performer seemed made for each other, it's Don Quixote in the musical Man of La Mancha, and Brad Curtis. In the current Ferndale Repertory Theatre production, that dream is not impossible -- it's fulfilled.
The frequent star of Humboldt Light Opera, North Coast Rep and Ferndale Rep productions, Curtis has the looks, voice and bearing of a leading man. But he can also act, and he commits to shaping a character. So at a given moment, his Quixote is somewhere between addled and innocent, deluded and shrewd, confused and committed. Curtis also plays the author Cervantes in the framing story (telling of Quixote's adventures while in prison), with a little earthier mixture of practical bravado and ironic humility ("I did not have the courage to believe in nothing").
The emotional high point of the play -- not surprisingly -- is Quixote singing "The Impossible Dream" to start the second act, and Curtis nails it. As Aldonza (the serving wench Quixote decides is his ideal lady, Dulcinea), Andrea Zvaleko again astonishes with her powerful acting and singing, providing the other emotionally resonant moments. In the mostly comedic first act, John Ludington shines as a vaudeville Sancho Panza, while Kyle Ryan stands out in his brief but bracing scene as the cowardly barber. In one of those sneakily crucial roles, Steve Sterback is steady and believable as the innkeeper, and Danielle Cichon's sinuous dance enlivens the second act.
The cast as a whole performs admirably, with most excelling in their group and choreographed scenes, and their individual moments. Ginger Gene directs with both a command of the whole and attention to detail. In the musical comedy genre, this production is an artistic and technical triumph for all, including Dianne Zuleger as musical director and conductor of the live band, Daniel Nyiri as scenic designer, Michael Foster's lighting, Lori Knowles and Ginger Gene's costumes and Jasper Anderton's fight choreography. A special shout-out for the clarity and support of both the speaking and singing achieved by sound designers Ian Schatz and Dillon Savage, and sound board operator John Riddenour.
The Ferndale production provides solid musical theatre entertainment, especially if you aren't bothered by a certain dramatic sketchiness in the play. Admirers of Cervantes might also point out that in this script Quixote has not been adapted so much as kidnapped. Despite lifted lines, including some from Cervantes deathbed note, this play turns Cervantes' satire of heroic romance into heroic romance. Still, it's more ambitious than usually credited, and the music, while mostly forgotten, was innovative. But it's the energy, judgment and skill of this Ferndale production that stands out.
Jeff DeMark performs his Writing My Way Out of Adolescence, the show that started it all, at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 17, at Redwood Yogurt in Arcata. He's joined by singer-songwriter Josephine Johnson and guitarist Andrew Goff, playing before the show and in it as well.
Iphigenia Must Die, based on a play by Euripides, is the Dell'Arte School annual presentation on tragedy by second-year students. "What the students are hoping to do is create a tragic vision that works for today, that admits a inextricable link between free will, Fate, and human choice," said director Joan Schirle. Performances are Thursday through Sunday at 8 p.m. in the Carlo, on the now standard pay-what-you-will basis. 668-5663.
Motion Collage, the annual dance concert from HSU Theatre, Film & Dance is performed for one weekend only, Thursday (April 15) through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 in the Van Duzer Theatre. Dances range from social commentary to comedy (a water ballet on dry land) and traditional dances from the Yucatan. HSUStage.blogspot.com.
On longer-range radar: I stopped by Redwood Curtain's new theatrical home at 220 First Street (between C and D) in Old Town, Eureka, as Clint Rebik and crew were busily applying paint and otherwise preparing for the opening show: the comedy Glorious! starring Lynne Wells as Florence Foster Jenkins, a singer so bad she was great. Co-directed by RC founders Rebik and Peggy Metzger, it features Bob Wells, Bonnie Halverson, Larry Pitts, Elisa Abelleira and Pamela Lyall. It opens April 29 and continues Thursdays through Saturdays until May 15. The theater has fewer than 100 seats, so advance tickets are recommended. 443-7688, www.redwoodcurtain.com.
Also opening on April 29 is the annual HSU Ten Minute Play Festival, for two weekends in Gist Hall Theatre.
Finally, to return to Ferndale, the annual Teen Show this year is Beyond the Fringe, April 30 and May 1 at 8, and May 2 at 2 p.m. I am impressed by the boldness and taste of this choice -- it is such sophisticated humor, and so British. A Broadway hit in the early ’60s, it starred a young foursome who individually became icons (Dudley Moore became a movie star, Jonathan Miller a TV, stage and opera director; Alan Bennett a major playwright, and Peter Cook, revered as the comic genius of the group). It's great to know their work lives on.