We need a dose of Don Quixote idealism every couple years.
I’ve seen ”Man of La Mancha” four or five times and even married my own Aldonza/Dulcinea from a production with the great Nehemiah Persoff. The story by Miguel Cervantes is 400 years old, but the ideas are timeless.
The national touring company bringing the 1965 Tony Award-winning musical to the McCallum Theatre this weekend conveys the wild-eyed optimism of Alonso Quixana’s windmill-chasing, sanity-challenged alter ego, Don Quixote. As played by Jack E. Curenton, reprising a role he first tackled 30 years ago, we feel the value of seeing the world as it ought to be, not as it is.
“Man of La Mancha,” which Dale Wasserman adapted into a musical with Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion from Wasserman’s 1959 TV adaptation of Cervantes’ ground-breaking novel, is the story of how Cervantes is imprisoned during the Spanish Inquisition and put on trial by his fellow prisoners for the right to keep the manuscript he is writing about Quixana/Quixote.
His fellow prisoners charge him with being an idealist, a bad poet and an honest man, to which Cervantes pleads guilty. But Cervantes cajoles the inmates into coming to his defense by acting out his manuscript, which is the tale of how the Spanish gentleman Quixana turns into the knight errant Quixote after reading so many books about chivalry that he loses his sanity and becomes a pursuer of lofty undertakings.
His quest: “To add some measure of grace to the world.”
It is the perfect musical for tourists and retirees coming to this desert. La Mancha is described as “a desert, a wasteland.” But Quixote sees it as “a land of illusion.”
After seeing Persoff, the Tony Award-winning Richard Kiley and the Grammy Award-winning Jack Jones in the title role, watching Curenton was like watching an actor try to reach unreachable heights. He didn’t act the role as intensely as Persoff or sing it as magnificently as Kiley and Jones. But he conveyed the ideas.
Likewise, Jessica Norland, in her first national tour, plays Aldonza/Dulcinea more like Sandra Bullock than a gritty, intense Helena Bonham Carter might play the character. But that’s partly because the role is written for a soprano. Norland does tug at the heart strings when she begs Quixote to look at her as the whore she really is, instead of the model of purity Quixote sees in his heart.
The choreographed action scenes lack the intensity that might come with tighter execution, but the music, especially the vocal harmonies, are wonderful.
This “Man of La Mancha,” continuing through Sunday at the McCallum, is inspiring. And that’s certainly the main thing Cervantes hoped to achieve when he wrote the original story.