Published: Tuesday, March 15, 2016 By: John Bailey Source: WPCNR

From the haunting burst of trumpets at the overture to the last lilting pleas of Michelle Dawson, Paul Schoeffler and company belting out “The Impossible Dream,” Westchester Broadway Theatre’s revival of musical that lifts you out of despair against all odds triumphed at its Opening Night last night. The Bravos wafted like Knights pennants in the closing ovation.

As Miguel de Cervantes, the tax collector, awaits his fate in the hopeless dungeon in Seville, awaiting his fate before the Spanish Inquisition court, Cervantes creates a play in the dark to amuse his fellowed doomed prisoners. It is a fanciful tale that is the second best selling book of all time next to the Bible, telling of a disillusioned nobleman who believes he is a knight, Don Quixote.

Captured by the beauty of the (very) fair Aldonza (magnificent Michelle Dawson) whom Quixote in his delusion refers to as Dulcinea, much to the serving girl’s disgust, Quixote defends her against the lowlifes who frequent the inn he and his squire, Sancho Panza (a most amusing and droll Gary Marachek) stop after he declares himself Man of La Mancha.

The play within the despair of the Grand Inquisitor’s dungeon never fails throughout to uplift the audience with its message to “Dream the Impossible Dream,” against the odds,  an anthem that inspired the 1960s. Originally designed to be staged in theatre-in-the-round just like the Westchester Broadway Theatre, the musical just fits.

The ominous yet still fresh trumpets of the overture whisk you back to an age of repression far harrowing than today’s. The fighting prisoners in the dank dungeon; the imposing lowering gang plank that descends awesomely with a helmeted towering guard stepping menacingly down the stair seeking the next doomed wretch to face the Inquisitioner is a process that chills you with fear. The dungeon set designed by Michael Bottari and Ronald Case never lets you forget for a moment the hopelessness of the prisoners, a metaphor for the crises we each face personally every day in our own private dungeons we consistently struggle to escape.

The pair who struggle in Man of La Mancha:  Aldonza, the servant woman little more than a plaything tormented and disrespected by the riffraff who inhabit Cervantes’ mythical inn, is taken by the delusions of Don Quixote Man of La Mancha who transforms himself in his first big number Man of La Mancha – that brings out the “the noble knight” in every man especially with Paul Schoeffler’s lusty baritone that makes Quixote like Sir Lancelot.

Ms. Dawson holds her own turning down and commanding the attentions of the Inn rowdies, with disdainful, mocking, cynical, confidence delivered amusingly by the runs, trills and amazing leaps of her coloratura soprano style in It’s All the Same. Leave it to Ms. Dawson’s amazing range to bring us back to hope and courage and the good fight as Quixote rises from his death bed, when she raises goosebumps by her echoing reprise of The Impossible Dream in the on- your-feet finale.

Comic turns in Act One feature David Cantor’s rendition of The Barber’s Song, and awarding Don Quixote The Golden Helmet of Mambrino.

Act One carries you to the pinnacle of the show—Mr. Schoeffler’s confident, growing-ever-stronger octave by octave Impossible Dream—a song that stirs the most downcast heart, which is the great strength of this show.

Act II begins with  Don Quixote rescuing  Dulcinea/Antonia from her tormenters the muleteers but also leads to Dulcinea’s undoing in a scene that could be disturbing for young audiences (it disturbed me),  and could have been done considerably more tastefully.

Before Dulcinea is carried away though Quixote is dubbed Knight of the Woeful Countenance by the innkeeper played drolly by Geoff Belliston .

The spectacular appearance of the Duke in shining armor (Quixote’s doctor in real life) leads to Quixote’s abrupt return to reality.

As he recovers, he does not remember his time as Quixote until Dulcinea (Ms.Dawson) appears as either his dream coming alive again – the impossible dream (psychiatrists help me out here), and as Quixote departs his spirit lives on in a stirring finale.

Schoeffler is every bit the swaggering, posturing Quixote who makes you root for him, because in reality we all dream the Impossible Dream – but we need some help. Man of La Mancha is a musical gives you that help.  It plays the WBT through May 1.

Check the box office at 914-592-2222 or the WBT website,