On Saturday night, Theatre in the Park’s Ira David Wood III received a rock-star welcome as he repeated his passionate performance in the title role that he twice before played in the North Carolina Theatre’s three productions of Man of La Mancha. Headlining this invigorating and truly inspiring Broadway musical for the fourth time, counting an early outdoor presentation for TIP, the Raleigh, NC actor gives crowd-pleasing portrayals—full of panache and laced with a liberal dose of humor — of Spanish novelist Don Miguel de Cervantes y Saavedra (1547-1616) and his two most famous characters, the aging and impecunious country squire Alonso Quijana and his alter ego, crack-brained but charming knight errant Don Quixote de La Mancha. In thanks for his charismatic characterizations, Wood received fervent cheers and extended applause from his first entrance to his final bow, as Man of La Mancha earned a standing ovation that went on and on.

Joining Wood as apples of the audience’s eye are Mary Gutzi as Aldonza/Dulcinea and Sam Reni as Cervantes’ Manservant/Sancho Panza. Gutzi gave a heart-wrenching performance as the slutty, embittered, angry kitchen scullion Aldonza, whom the chivalrous Don Quixote mistakes for the beautiful high-born lady Dulcinea; and Reni is hilarious as that Quixote’s roly-poly sidekick, that windy little bag of proverbs known as Sancho Panza. Wood, Gutzi, and Reni form a formidable triumvirate and give the North Carolina Theatre’s robust revival of Man of La Mancha three truly stellar performances.

An exceptionally strong supporting cast, headed by Paul J. Malamphy as the gruff Governor and good-hearted Innkeeper, Stuart Marland as the cruel Dr. Carrasco, and Brian Norris as noble Padre Perez (who makes his haunting rendition of “To Each His Dulcinea” a show-stopper), also help give director/choreographer Sam Viverito’s vivacious staging of this venerable musical the requisite snap, crackle, and pop. The only false note in Viverito’s otherwise superlative staging of Man of La Mancha is the excessive hamminess of the scene in which the Innkeeper knights Don Quixote.

Jeffery Maggs as the cheerful Barber, whose shaving basin Don Quixote mistakes for the Golden Helmet of Mambrino; Michael Mason as the scary Captain of the Inquisition, who summons the inmates of the prison in Seville to appear before probably world history’s most infamous kangaroo court; Michael D. Dionissiou as the malicious muleteer Pedro; Heather Patterson-King as the Innkeeper’s fussy wife; and Margaret Webb as Alonso Quijana’s concerned Housekeeper also add crisp cameos. Other featured performers acquitting themselves with distinction include Alan Bennett as Tenorio, Jason Mark Durst as a Prison Guard/Paco, Brian Fisher as Jose, Aja Kane as Fermina, Heather Maggs as a Moorish Girl, Tiger Martina as Juan, Haley Swindal as Antonia, and Eric Ulloa as Anselmo.

The stage setting from Artpark & Company of Lewiston, NY, with scenery built and painted by Adirondack Scenic Inc. of Argyle, NY, is a magnificent, towering, multilevel creation, with complementary pieces by set designer R.T. Williams; and the handsomely recreated 17th century costumes from Costume World Theatrical of Deerfield Beach, FL, and NCT resident costume designer Ann M. Bruskiewitz add another note of authenticity to the proceedings. Also deserving the highest kudos are the robust accompaniment by music director/conductor David Andrews Rogers and the NCT orchestra and the sizable backstage contributions by lighting designer John Bartenstein, wig and makeup designer Sarah Opstad, properties mistress Laurie Johnson, and sound designer Jonathan Parke.

The Raleigh, NC-based North Carolina Theatre, which specializes in high-quality, home-grown versions of big Broadway musicals, has another winner in Man of La Mancha. David Wood, Mary Gutzi, Sam Reni, and cohorts and director/choreographer Sam Viverito and the NCT creative team have combined to make “The Impossible Dream” of creating Triangle productions that compare favorably with the finest regional-theater presentations, and even some Broadway shows and national tours, come true once again at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts.

The North Carolina Theatre presents Man of La Mancha, starring Ira David Wood III, Tuesday-Friday, Oct. 9-12, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 13, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Oct. 14, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $25-$75. NCT Box Office: 919/831-6950/. Group Rates (for groups of 10+): 919/831-6944, ext. 6944. Note: Arts Access, Inc., will audio-describe the 2 p.m. Oct. 13th performance. North Carolina Theatre: http://www.nctheatre.com/. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=5817. Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0068909/. E-Text of the Novel (courtesy Project Gutenberg): http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/996. Official Don Quixote Quartercentenary Site: http://www.donquijotedelamancha2005.com/pluma/pluma.htm [inactive 8/08]. Virtual Museum of Don Quixote: http://www.donquijote.org/vmuseum/ [inactive 10/24/07].