Even if you have never read Cervantes' famous novel, Don Quixote, or have never attended a production of the Tony winning musical, Man of La Mancha, written by Dale Wasserman, I promise you will recognize the story, the music, and the lyrics when you hear them. Through the month of October, the Milwaukee Repertory Theater will be performing this most beloved of musicals, and this is one production that is not to be missed.
The story of Don Quixote is referenced so often in modern culture, most people would be surprised to learn that it was written over 400 years ago by Miquel de Cervantes of Spain. Cervantes, a veteran of the Spanish military, was captured by pirates after his service and sold into slavery, where he remained for five years, and struggled financially for the rest of his life. Despite the novel's popularity, Cervantes never made much money from his great work.
Interestingly, the tale of Dale Wasserman, the writer of Man of La Mancha, is nearly as fantastic as Cervantes'. Born in Rhinelander, Wisconsin in 1914, Wasserman was orphaned before he was even 10 years old. Instead of going to school, he traveled the country from job to job, until he eventually began working in theater as a lighting designer, and then progressed to writing scripts. He originally wrote a made-for- television play about Cervantes in 1959. Then, in 1964, he and Director Albert Marre turned the TV play into a stage musical, with composer Mitch Leigh and lyricist Joe Darion to write the music and lyrics. Not only is Wasserman remembered for Man of La Mancha, which went on to win five Tony awards, he is also known for writing One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
Man of La Mancha is both the story of Don Quixote and of Cervantes (played brilliantly by Milwaukee's own Nathaniel Stampley). In the musical, Cervantes and his servant have been imprisoned in Seville, and are awaiting their trial by the Spanish Inquisition for their "crimes against the church." The prisoners, however, have a trial of their own. They confiscate Cervantes' belongings, including the unfinished manuscript of his novel, Don Quixote. In his defense, Cervantes presents a play of his manuscript for his fellow prisoners, involving them in the production, and becomes Don Quixote, the Lord of La Mancha, himself; an aging man with a wild imagination, who fancies himself a knight errant, bent on restoring chivalry and righteousness to the world. His servant becomes Quixote's worthy squire, Sancho Panza (Michael J. Farina). Don Quixote does all for the love of his lady, "Dulcinea," whom he imagines to be the peasant lady, Aldonza (Leenya Rideout). Quixote's family is embarrassed by his behavior, and believe they need to cure him of his delusions but, perhaps, a big imagination isn't such a bad thing, after all?
Directing his seventh musical on the Quadracci Powerhouse stage is The Rep's Artistic Director, Mark Clements, with Musical Direction by Associate Artist, Dan Kazemi. Besides Stampley, Man of La Mancha features a string of some of Milwaukee's favorite actors, including Jonathan Gillard Daly, Bethany Thomas, Gavin Gregory, Beth Mulkerron, Michael Doherty, and Michael Accardo, as well as Matt Daniels, who is making his Rep debut.
While this 50 year old musical, and the 400 year old story it is inspired by, may seem irrelevant today, there is a reason it has endured: Quixote's belief. His belief in his own values; his belief in the good in others, even when they can't see it in themselves. His ability to not just "see life as it is, but...as it ought to be," and to believe that we can attain that. In these times, that belief is something we all need. Man of La Mancha is not only one of the greatest musicals ever written, it is easily the greatest musical I've ever seen The Rep perform, and one of the finest Rep performances I've ever seen, period.
Man of La Mancha opened Saturday, September 24th and runs through October 30th in the Quadracci Powerhouse Theater. Tickets can be purchased online at www.milwaukeerep.com, by phone at (414) 224-9490, or in person at the Ticket Office, located at 108 E. Wells Street in Milwaukee. A variety of events, including Rep-in-Depth, a pre-show conversations with actor Matt Daniels, post-show Talk Backs with the cast and creative team, and Community Conversation Panel Discussions are happening in conjunction with the production, as well as a Singing Workshop on Saturday, October 1st from 2-3 p.m. and a Flamenco Dance Workshop in collaboration with Siempre Flamenco on Saturday, October 15th from 2-3 p.m. For more information on these events, go to www.milwaukeerep.com/On-Stage/Events/.
About Milwaukee Repertory Theater
Milwaukee Rep is a nationally-recognized company that presents compelling dramas, powerful classics, award-winning contemporary works, and full-scale musicals, housed in its three unique performance venues: the Quadracci Powerhouse, Stiemke Studio, and Stackner Cabaret. The Rep also produces an annual production of A Christmas Carol, featuring a World Premiere of a new adaptation in 2016, at the histroic Pabst Theater. Under the leadership of Artistic Director, Mark Clements, and Managing Director, Chad Bauman, Milwaukee Repertory Theater ignites positive change in the cultural, social, and economic vitality of its community by creating world-class theater experiences that entertain, provoke, and inspire meaningful dialogue among an audience representative of Milwaukee's rich diversity.