Portland Ovations has done a consistent job of bringing good traveling productions of Broadway musicals to Merrill Auditorium in Portland. Saturday’s performance of “Man of La Mancha,” by Chasing Windmills LLC, was no exception.

Everyone is aware of the need for a road show to get on the road to the next venue, but 2 hours and 15 minutes without an intermission is a little too much. I wasn’t aware of any substantial cuts, and the original itself was long, about 2 hours and 45 minutes with one intermission.

That said, the play within a play held the audience’s interest throughout, assisted by a good orchestra and cast and a fine dungeon set, complete with a real drawbridge lowered on chains.

There was no curtain and the action began casually, with two guitarists and a dancer on stage.

Then the assorted prisoners filed in and Don Quixote (Miguel de Cervantes) and Sancho Panza appeared with the captain of the guard at the upper end of the drawbridge, somehow appearing much larger than life, like the Don’s imaginary giants – a very nice piece of stagecraft.

Another, literally dazzling, example was the mirror scene, in which Don Quixote is cured of his “madness” by being forced to look into mirrored shields. The brilliant reflections blinking throughout the theater brought everyone in the audience into the scene.

“Man of La Mancha” is almost an opera, with the plot advanced by a large number of musical interludes rather than dialogue. Few of them are memorable, except for “The Impossible Dream,” now something of a cliche but beloved by audiences from Africa to Finland. It was movingly sung by Jake E. Currenton (Don Quixote) who seems made for the part.

Rick Grossman as Sancho showed just the right mixture of loyalty and practicality, but I found Jessica Norland’s interpretation of Aldonza a little too much barmaid and too little Dulcinea to make her reawakening of the Don’s knighthood credible in the finale.

Even if they couldn’t be whistled on the way home, there were some telling musical numbers, such as the cynical “I’m Only Thinking of Him,” sung by Don Quixote’s household, or “The Psalm,” in which Chuck Hodges, as the Padre, reveals an almost operatic singing voice.

While reading up for this review, I learned that the original lyrics were written by W.H. Auden, but rejected as too biting for audiences in 1965, when the musical opened. Now there’s an idea for the next revival, especially now that we live in an era that dismisses “fact-based reality.”

Christopher Hyde’s Classical Beat column appears in the Maine Sunday Telegram. He can be contacted at:

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