One of the coolest things about my job is that I get to sit in on what’s called a “Designer Run” for each of the shows.
And in the Man of La Mancha Designer Run last week, I saw—even only in that relatively small (at least when you compare it with the Main Stage) space—a truly moving and beautiful production. In fact, for the first time I finally got why I’ve heard so many people, when asked what their favorite musical is, claim Man of La Mancha for that accolade.
The stage show has been around for almost fifty years (and the story on which it is based nearly four hundred). Since it debuted on Broadway in 1965, it has been produced in a multitude of venues: The first production I saw was in a makeshift theatrical space at my alma mater that employed the use of an overhanging balcony in the back of a music hall so that the stairway through which Cervantes enters his Inquisitional prison could descend. Years later, I saw a lovely production here in Salt Lake at SLCC’s The Grand Theatre starring the stunningly-voiced Ginger Bess as Aldonza. (Little side note: Ginger’s husband Daniel T. Simons plays guitar for the muleteers in our upcoming production.) And of course, many PTC patrons will tell you of the legendary Robert Peterson portrayal of the poet and madman—an experience I’m very sorry to say I missed out on, since I only moved to this state several years after the last incarnation of “Bob of La Mancha” as it’s affectionately referred to in PTC’s halls and in local theatre circles.
But, for the first time, even in an incompletely rehearsed run-through of this show, my eyes were finally opened to the magic this story holds.
Don Quixote is a man obsessed with potential. He doesn’t judge books by their covers, to say the least, and he in fact sees only the most romantic and lovely versions of all that he encounters.
Aldonza, even in her oppressed and impoverished state, clings desperately to the powerful idea of free will, and controls what she can in spite of the albatross of her meager circumstances and daily hardship.
Sancho Panza is as loyal a friend as there has ever been, and the kindly Innkeeper sees the goodness and the value of an individual that many see as only a nuisance and a troublemaker.
And, of course, the story of Don Quixote is one that has survived, been told and retold for centuries—even longer than much of Shakespeare. The fervent optimism of the man has transcended time periods, cultures, and languages. In fact, it has even contributed to the development of at least one language other than the one in which it was written—English adapted his name as a word for his character: quixotic, and the phrase “tilting at windmills” is used regularly even still for those who dare to Dream their Impossible Dreams. The traits embodied in the story are so universally human that it still has the power to (and did) bring several people to tears in a rehearsal room at PTC in the middle of the workday.
I can’t wait to see what it has the power to do on opening night.