Oceanside Theatre embracing big (but not impossible) dreams with ambitious staging of ‘Man of La Mancha’


Dreaming big is great. Dreaming up a stage production that stands to cost a small theater company three times the budget of its previous most-expensive show?

That sounds ... implausible, to say the least.

But it’s happening at the Brooks Theatre in Oceanside, where the 1965 musical “Man of La Mancha” is about to receive its first San Diego-area professional production in nearly seven years.

The show, says director and Oceanside Theatre Co. artistic chief Ted Leib, will have a cast of 14 plus six live musicians, which is a whole lot of people for the cozy Brooks stage.

Putting up a show of that scope doesn’t come cheap, but Leib says it’s worth it to do justice to “La Mancha,” a work he feels has grown a little underappreciated.

“It’s a powerful piece, if you do it with reverence for the material,” says Leib, who has been working to further raise OTC’s profile since he took over as artistic director in 2017.

“That’s our goal — to do it honestly. As I say: ‘Don’t be afraid of the dark.’ Because there is darkness in this piece, and we’re not shying away from that.”

“Man of La Mancha” is loosely based on “Don Quixote,” the early-1600s novel by Miguel de Cervantes about a wayward Spanish “knight errant.”

But in the musical-stage version by writer Dale Wasserman, composer Mitch Leigh and lyricist Joe Darion, the action unfolds largely as an imaginative fantasy spun by a storytelling prisoner named Cervantes, who’s stuck in a dungeon run by the Spanish Inquisition.

The show was a Broadway fixture for nearly six years, and still sits at No. 29 on the list of all-time longest-running Broadway productions (tied with “Rock of Ages”), although now it’s known mostly for its signature song, “The Impossible Dream.”

Leib was first introduced to the show as a kid, thanks in part to his connection to San Diego theater royalty: He’s the nephew by marriage to the late Don Ward and his wife, Bonnie, who ran Starlight Musical Theatre in Balboa Park for many years.

Recollections of Don Ward singing numbers from the show made a lasting impression on Leib, who has been an actor and director at numerous theaters around the county.

Leib says it had been quite a while since OTC had done a true Broadway musical; after the theater’s board OK’d the idea of taking on such a big project, he began searching for a show that people already would be familiar with, but that could be done with intimacy and impact: “I wanted a piece that could really move people,” as Leib puts it.

Once “La Mancha” won out, Leib brought in such pros as musical director Lyndon Pugeda and choreographer and assistant director Katie Banville.

The veteran leading man Rudy Martinez was cast as Cervantes/Quixote; he’s joined by Tom Brault, Timothy Cabal, Jonah Duhe, Matt Gonzalez, Jack Grable, Bob Himlin, Steven Jensen, Steve Lawrence, Taylor Magee, Steven Pappas, Olivia Pence, Tara Sampson, Kaleb Scott and Eden Young.

Leib hopes the show serves notice both about OTC’s newly energized ambitions and the somewhat neglected charms of “La Mancha.”

“There is so much about this piece that is brilliant — and I think underrated,” Leib says. “I think this show doesn’t get its due.

“It’s got the two or three big songs that everybody has heard. But I’m not sure it has its place in the pantheon that it probably deserves.”

“Man of La Mancha”

When: Opens Friday. May 3-26. 7:30 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays. Through May 26.

Where: Oceanside Theatre Co. at the Brooks Theatre, 217 N. Coast Hwy., Oceanside

Tickets: $19-$34

Phone: (760) 433-8900