SHOW NOTES: Man of La Mancha

Plays and Events |June 27, 2016

“Locale: Spain at the end of the sixteenth century. A prison in the city of Seville and various places in the imagination of Miguel de Cervantes…” – opening stage directions of Man of La Mancha

Synopsis:  Man of La Mancha tells the tale of the knight Don Quixote as a play within a play. Cervantes and his fellow prisoners perform this play while awaiting a hearing during the Spanish Inquisition.

Production History:  Brooks Atkinson came out of retirement to review Man of La Mancha in 1965. Here is an excerpt from that review: “Since Man of La Mancha is vivid and spontaneous, it looks effortless in the theatre. It looks, in fact, like a gay improvisation on an austere platform stage. If a theatregoer stops to think about it, the performance includes some bold devices. Cervantes transforms himself into Don Quixote by making up on the forestage in the presence of the audience. Towards the end of the performance, a cloth is stretched across the stage to mask a blunt change of scene when Don Quixote is laid on his deathbed. Apart from the grim drawbridge let down in the first scene to dump Cervantes and Sancho into prison and a few other bits of impromptu construction, there is no scenery to illustrate this fantastic tale, and the costumes on the whole are plain and bedraggled. Most musical plays are overwhelmed with scenery and costumes on the businesslike assumption that audiences dote on being drugged with magnificence. For a similar reason,overtures are usually played at a pitch that deafens the audience. For the theatre normally assumes that audiences cannot be beguiled; they have to be eviscerated. Too much of everything is regarded as hardly enough to drag the audience past the box office… If any part of the production were inept, Man of La Mancha would emerge on the platform stage as precious or contrived. On the contrary, it is genuine; at the conclusion it is moving—the finest musical play of the season and one of the most imaginative theatre events of the decade.”

In the rehearsal room with (l-r) Thomas Sutter, Zander Lyons, Michael Mendez, and Geoffrey Wade

In the rehearsal room with (l-r) Thomas Sutter, Zander Lyons, Michael Mendez, and Geoffrey Wade

In 1959 Dale Wasserman wrote the teleplay I, Don Quixote, which starred Lee J. Cobb, Colleen Dewhurst, and Eli Wallach. Inspired by the teleplay, director Albert Marre convinced Wasserman to make it into a musical. Man of La Mancha had its world premiere at the Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut in 1964. After a successful regional run, it transferred to New York City. The original Broadway production opened in November 1965, starring Richard Kiley and Joan Diener. It ran for 2,328 performances and won five Tony Awards: Score, Scenic Design, Lead Actor in a Musical, Director of a Musical, and Best Musical. It was revived in 1977, with Richard Kiley reprising his role, and again in 2003 with Brian Stokes Mitchell and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio.

Book writer Dale Wasserman disliked the fact that people referred to the show as a musical version of Don Quixote. Man of La Mancha is not a faithful rendition of Don Quixote, or of Cervantes’ life, but rather, a tribute. As Wasserman said, “Misfortune, in fact was the pattern of his life. He was dealt blow after blow by the blind malice of fate. Failure and disaster; this is the record – until in his fifties, shamefully poor, infirm of body and with dimming eyesight, he undertook the writing of a book which he hoped might bring him ease in his remaining years. Here I discovered the design for a play I wanted to write. Not an adaptation of ‘Don Quixote,’ but a tribute to the spirit of his creator. To blend and merge their identities—what I had learned was that in all essential ways Miguel de Cervantes was Don Quixote.”

Portrait of Miguel de Cervantes y Saavedra (1547-1615) by Jauregui y Aguilar, Juan de (c.1566-1641)

Miguel De Cervantes:  It was his continued bad luck that turned Miguel de Cervantes to writing.” Rafaello Busoni
Miguel de Cervantes was born in 1547 to a poor family in a Castilian city northeast of Madrid. Much of his birth, and life in general is not known. It is known, however, that he loved the theatre. He was a soldier, spent five years as a slave in Africa, and served terms in prison. In 1597 he was excommunicated for “offenses against His Majesty’s Most Catholic Church.” Like most authors of his day, he was unable to support himself by writing, and he wrote Don Quixote in order to try to make money. He died in April of 1616, within days of the death of his contemporary William Shakespeare. Cervantes’ burial ground was unknown until 2015. Don Quixote is now a beloved classic and established Miguel de Cervantes as one of Spain’s most treasured writers.

A Lasting Influence:
Quixotic: adjective  Foolishly impractical especially in the pursuit of ideals
Tilting at Windmills: An English expression that means attacking imaginary enemies or engaging in a futile activity

Both Don Quixote and Cervantes have inspired many artists in a variety of fields including a ballet by George Balanchine in 1965, a film adaptation starring Peter O’Toole and Sophia Loren in 1972, and an opera by Antonio Salieri. Pablo Picasso painted a now famous picture of a scene from Don Quixote, and in the early 1960’s, Salvador Dali etched Cervantes as part of the series called the “Five Spanish Immortals.” This series also included El Cid, El Greco, Velazquez and Don Quixote.

Our Weston Production: Interview with actress Marissa McGowan

Talk a bit about your history with Weston.  I started here at Weston in 2001 when I was in college and I was a member of the Young Company. I spent three summers being in every cabaret, learning from the directors, working alongside the amazing professional MainStage actors and developing myself as an actor, comedian and person. It was the most valuable training I had as a young person. Since then I’ve gone on to become a professional and I come back home to Weston whenever I can. La Mancha will be my 5th show returning!

What’s your favorite Weston role so far and why? That is a hard question since I’ve been lucky to play some incredible roles here, but I have to go with Adelaide in Guys & Dolls. She was the most fun!

If you could have your pick of shows to do at Weston, which one would it be and why? I’ve wanted to do Little Shop of Horrors for a while. Audrey is another dream role for me. She’s kind of a combination of Aldonza (an abused woman) and Adelaide (a silly, sweet, over the top funny character).

What excites you about working on Man of La Mancha? Is there anything daunting about it?  I have always loved the score and the show. I saw a production of it in college fell in love with the role of Aldonza. It is also an incredible challenge. Aldonza is a dream role and so many incredible actresses have played it before me, so I do feel like I have very big shoes to fill.

Is Aldonza a “bucket list” role for you, and if so why? Yes. Total bucket list role. She is fierce and has had an incredibly hard life. She is complicated and exciting and has a huge journey to go through in the course of the show. I love her and I love getting to investigate her every day. She is the kind of dark, complicated role every actress wants to sink her teeth into.

In the rehearsal room, Marissa as Aldonza, with Sutter and Lyons

In the rehearsal room, Marissa as Aldonza, with Sutter and Lyons

Do you have a crazy/scary/funny behind-the-scenes story to share?  Oh so many to choose from! I love when things go wrong on stage because that’s the beauty of live theater. One of my first on stage mishaps was at Weston when I was dancing in the Dream Ballet in Oklahoma! and my skirt fell off. I was wondering why people in the front row were laughing and it suddenly felt so breezy!

Memories of La Mancha: from the original Antonia, Mimi Turque
“As I suspected when I happily agreed to share a few memories of my experience of being in Man of La Mancha, strong feelings slowed the writing down. I hold closely many memories of Man of La Mancha so there is no one favorite. I had worked with Albie Marre before in a pre-Broadway show called, La Belle. All through rehearsals and until Albie came to the dressing room to tell us the show was closing, I lived in fear that he was going to fire me because he never spoke to me nor seemed to look at me. But, after his sad announcement, Albie did look at me, for the first time ever and spoke! “And you would have had a part that would have made you a star.” La Belle closed and that encounter with Albie was the first and last time he spoke to me until a couple of years later when out of the blue he phoned and said he wanted me involved in a three show venture he was creating at the Goodspeed Opera House: Man of La Mancha, Purple Dust and Chu Chem. I needed to audition for the composer and lyricists of the three pieces. I don’t remember which song I sang, but I was hired. We rehearsed in New York before heading out to Goodspeed.

At our first rehearsal, Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion sang through the show for the company. When they got to the scene where Aldonza forces her way into the Quijana household and reminds the dying gentleman that he is Don Quixote de La Mancha, I wept. I think all of us wept. La Mancha was the hit of the Goodspeed season. Excitement about it was great, so Al Seldon, and Hal James agreed to produce it in New York. During previews, NY experienced a blackout, and Albie, not fazed by this adversity, had candles set all around the apron of the stage and we all rehearsed. We had footlights!

Howard Bay, the set designer, had the stage of the ANTA Washington Square Theatre configured to accommodate a massive staircase that descended to the stage at which point Inquisitors would march down, and then, when the dark and hooded Inquisitors were done striking fear into the hearts of prisoners and audience alike, was drawn back up. An ominous sight. Beneath the thrust stage there was a sub-stage called, “the Vomitorium”, out of which the doomed prisoners would be dragged and then shoved up that imposing staircase. Actors had a place to sit in that sub area while waiting to go onstage. On opening night, my adrenaline racing, I was sitting down there waiting for a cue and the waves of applause and laughter for the little barber scene fairly knocked me over. It was crystal clear the audience was ecstatic. Alarmingly, the opening night party was grim. Early reviews ridiculed the play. My husband Mick, assistant stage manager on the show, and I were also grim as we took the subway home. But we were having a lucky streak, and by morning the resoundingly great reviews came in! Perhaps expecting an utter disaster, tickets hadn’t been printed! So we played to empty houses for a week or more. And then, when tickets were finally printed, you couldn’t get them because all the seats were sold out! Deeply moved audience members would purchase tickets for their friends and relatives then and there as they exited the theatre! “What? You’ve only seen Man of La Mancha once?” buttons were seen everywhere!”

“Because nothing much was expected of Man of La Mancha before we opened, the producers couldn’t find a record company willing to do a show album. Finally, a little-known company agreed to record it. Kapp records. With four days of back-to-back shows following the previews, the cast dragged itself the following morning to the studio. It was a very exciting day, and I remember wondering if I’d have a voice left with which to sing! Of course, more memories are clamoring to be expressed, and no memory can reveal the depth of our experience at having been in the show nor how profoundly we were changed by it. I still don’t know how I came to be hired as Antonia. I should have asked Albie when, decades later, we fell in love and married.”

Please join us to experience the magic of Man of La Mancha, and celebrate our 80th Anniversary Season.


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