I’ve really been waiting for this one!…Man of La Mancha is my favorite Broadway musical, and I’ve always admired it for its message, and its groundbreaking departure from tradition. The tone is dark and dramatic, it is performed without intermission, the music is vibrantly rhythmic, and source material, of course, is a timeless classic, and Cervantes’ Don Quixote is second only to The Bible as far as publishing and readership worldwide. With a book by Dale Wasserman, lyrics by Joe Darion and music by Mitch Leigh, this show, for me, totally paved the way for the darker shows in recent decades like Les Miserables, Jekyll and Hyde and Phantom of the Opera. I briefly knew Albert Selden, who produced the original production on Broadway in 1965, and when they were first talking, they actually wanted to have the audience check their clothes in the lobby, and be given burlap rags to wear, and leave the heat off in the dead of the New York winter, so the audience would suffer along with the actors in the dungeon cell onstage.
This play-within-a-play is actually three-fold: The outer back story is real-life author and playright Miguel de Cervantes, thrown into a holding cell at the start of the play, to await his trial before the Spanish Inquisition. When his fellow prisoners decide to hold a mock kangaroo court trial while he’s waiting, Cervantes uses his unfinished novel as his defense, inviting his fellow inmates to enter into his imagination and become the characters in his story of Alonso Quijana, a country squire who mounts a crusade to right all that is wrong with the world, and becomes Don Quixote, the mad knight who wants only to see life not as it is, but as it should be.
Last week, I caught up with Jack Curenton, who plays Miguel de Cervantes/Alonso Quijana/Don Quixote in the current tour, which plays at the McCallum Theatre this weekend. It turns out Jack is a southern California boy, and lives in Seal Beach, and has played this favorite role, and directed the show several times over the years. “Most of all, this show is about finding your dreams. To quote Robert Kennedy back in the late 60′s, “Some people look at what’s wrong with the world and say “Why?” But I look at a world that should be and can be, and say “Why not?” The half empty glass is in reality, always full – half water and half air, right?”
Man of La Mancha is a very intense theatrical experience, and will completely win you over to a positive take on life as it should be, to seek treasure where there is only trash, to be the best that you can be, and to find “The Impossible Dream” for yourself.
Man of La Mancha plays this weekend for five performances Fri, Jan 24 – 8 pm, Sat, Jan 24 – 2 and 8 pm, and Sun Jan 26 – 2 and 7 pm. Tickets $105 to $35. McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert. (760) 340-ARTS (2787) www.mccallumtheatre.com.