About the Play
This play within a play begins with Miguel de Cervantes who has just been imprisoned during the Spanish Inquisition. In the dungeon, the other prisoners hold a mock trial and Cervantes must defend himself to save a precious manuscript. He tells the court a fantastic story of an aging nobleman, and in doing so, he transforms himself into knight-errant Don Quixote de la Mancha. Don Quixote duels windmill monsters and defends the lady of his dreams, Dulcinea, who is actually a peasant “kitchen wench” named Aldonza. He travels with his squire, Sancho Panza, who does his best to keep Quixote out of trouble. Our “mad knight” has a heart of gold and sees what others cannot. His quest is to right all the wrongs in the world; he knows neither defeat or failure. His vision of hope and possibilities inspires goodness in others, even the prisoners’ court. Cervantes is returned his belongings just as the guards summon him to face the inquisition. While the ending is intentionally ambiguous, we are confident Cervantes/Don Quixote will be triumphant in his next adventure.
The original Broadway production of 1965 ran for 2,328 performances and won five Tony Awards including Best Musical. Its popularity has never waned with four Broadway revivals and numerous national and international productions that have been translated in over 30 languages. It began as a TV drama by Dale Wasserman for CBS under the title I, Don Quixote and was broadcast live in 1959. Following its Broadway triumph, Man of La Mancha was adapted for film in 1972 with Peter O’Toole playing Quixote and whose singing voice was dubbed by Simon Gilbert. The ‘72 film also featured Sophia Loren as Aldonza and James Coco as Sancho Panza.
About the Production
Director Mark Herrier is a PCPA alumnus who trained here during the early 70s and went on to build a successful career in theatre and film. At last summer’s 50th anniversary celebration, he had the idea of creating an “Eminent Artists” program where accomplished alumni could return to work alongside the great talents of PCPA’s present Resident Artists and further elevate PCPA’s professionalism and quality. Herrier said that this summer’s show title came up during those discussions, “and luckily for me, I became the first in what we hope to be a steady stream of eminent PCPA alumni coming back to our artistic home, bringing what we have learned after PCPA, and inspiring conservatory students in realizing that a life in the theatre is not an impossible dream.”
Don Quixote of La Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes, published in the early 1600s, is the source material for the musical Man of La Mancha. It is considered one of the greatest novels ever, and among the most influential works of literature. Its story of righting wrongs and bringing justice to the world, restoring chivalry and the quest to reach the unobtainable, has much to resonate today. Perhaps as Don Quixote’s quest shows us, we can find hope amid cynicism, find courage against overwhelming odds, and be able to see the real beauty within, rather than just the façade and the superficial. “These themes are perhaps more important today than they were 400 years ago,” said Herrier.
The director admits that staging such a well-known work has a set of exciting challenges in fulfilling an audience’s expectations while taking a fresh look and placing a personal stamp on the production. He said there’s a calculated balancing act to show the true horror of the dungeon Cervantes is held captive against the bountiful musical theatre comedy. “We intend to show the hope and inspiration arise out of the despair and filth of that bleak environment, and I am excited about the potential to take the play-within-the-play element of the production to a new level with a fluidity of movement, lights, and “magic” set pieces.”
Countless attempts have been made to bring the novel to the stage since it was written, but this musical remains the only successful adaptation of this masterwork, primarily because Dale Wasserman made Cervantes the focus of the piece -- and throwing in some wonderful songs -- it has proved irresistible to audiences around the world since the day it opened.
Herrier, who joined the Conservatory in 1972 right out of high school, sees the opportunity to direct at PCPA as a homecoming, and not just another job. “After 40 years wandering the world on my own personal quest, I have finally come home. To return to the theatre that was my start and inspiration, which gave me the foundation to make all my wildest dreams come true, is for me, quite simply, profound. Apparently, no dream is impossible!”
About the Authors
Dale Wasserman: book. Orphaned at the age of 9, Wasserman was a self-proclaimed “self-educated hobo.” He worked in various areas of the theatre: lighting, directing, producing, stage managing. He began writing for TV in the late 40s and has over 70 productions to his credit. In addition he wrote several plays and feature films including One Flew Over the Cucko’s Nest, How I Saved the World Damn World, A Walk in the Sky and Man of La Mancha. He spent several years, early in his life, riding the rails and working odd jobs. His education came through reading borrowed library books that he would return to subsequent libraries down the line. At the age of 19 he got his first job in the theatre. Later, as a director, as the story goes, he was in the middle of directing a Broadway play, which he never named when telling the story - when he suddenly walked out saying he couldn’t possibly write any worse than the stuff he was directing. That’s when he went from director to writer. His first play for TV won the TV Play of the Year award. He became one of the most popular writers in the Golden Age of Television including Kraft Mystery Theatre, Westinghouse Studio One, The Alcoa Hour, Armstrong Circle Theatre. Film credits include The Vikings (1958) with Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis Jane Leigh, and Ernest Borgnine; Cleopatra (1963), and Quick Before It Melts (1964). In addition to the over 70 teleplays, he penned over 20 plays and musicals and nearly as many feature films and garnered over 45 awards including Emmys, Tony’s, Elly’s, and Roby’s. He rarely attended awards ceremonies with the exception of receiving an honorary doctorate from the University of Wisconsin. He said that he attended the ceremony because it was near where he hopped aboard his first freight train at 12 years of age. “Irony should not be wasted,” he said.
The Duke: Why are you poets so fascinated with madmen?
Cervantes: I suppose . . . We have much in common.
The Duke: You both turn your backs on life.
Cervantes: We both select from life what pleases us.
Mitch Leigh: composer. Jazz musician and composer of radio and TV commercials, Leigh had no musical theatre experience before 1964 when he was asked to pen “a few numbers about quests, and wine, and beautiful women.” (New York Times obituary March 16, 2014). Man of La Mancha would be his most successful foray into theatre becoming a once in a lifetime hit. He did write for a number of other shows as well as directing and producing Cry for Us All, Home Sweet Homer, Sarava, and the 1983 Broadway revival of Mame with Angela Lansbury. He directed the 1985 revival of The King and I with Yul Brynner which earned him a Tony nomination, and Ain’t Broadway Grand which only had a three-week run.
He was the creative director of the radio and television commercial production house, Music Makers, where he won every major award within the advertising industry. The Yale educated musician told the Chicago Daily News Service that even having won a Tony he was happy to write for any medium and without apologies for being an advertising-jingle writer. “There’s more musical freedom on Madison Avenue than anywhere else. It’s an Eden for a composer,” he said.
One of the most popular songs in the history of popular music from Man of La Mancha, “The Impossible Dream” – which earned Leigh the Contemporary Classics Award from the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame & and the Yale Arts Award for Outstanding Achievement in Musical Composition – has been covered by over 80 artists including Frank Sanatra, Elvis Presley, Robert Goulet, Perry Como, Cher, and Placido Domingo. It’s been translated in over a dozen languages including nine dialects of the Spanish language. In 2001, Yale University named their new School of Music building after Leigh and his wife, Abby.
Joe Darion: lyrics. Darion and composing partner Mitch Leigh won the Tony Award for best score for Man of La Mancha. He was a prolific lyricist working in multiple genres and his records sold in the tens of millions. He left a legacy of musicals, cantatas, pop songs, operas, liberettos, and masses. In the 50’s Darion had a trio of top-10 hits: “Changing Partners” recorded by Patti Page, “Ricochet” recorded by Teresa Brewer, and “The Ho-Ho Song” by Red Buttons. His opera based on the characters Archy and Mehitabel was turned into the Broadway musical Shinbone Alley in 1957, and he wrote the 1967 Illya Darling. His work with Ezra Laderman includes the oratorio operas Galileo and, And David Wept. His awards, in addition to the Tony, include Drama Critics Circle Award, the Outer Critics Circle Award, The Gabriel Award, and International Broadcasting Award.