Three men of La Mancha took to the incredible set at Stages St. Louis last Sunday to offer their perspectives on the musical that won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical in 1965. The play at the Robert G. Reim Theatre in Kirkwood runs through Oct. 6.
“Man of La Mancha” tells the epic story of the 17th Century author Miguel de Cervantes and his immortal literary creation Don Quixote. Three men tasked with giving their takes on the play on Sept. 8 were: KMOX Radio’s Charles Brennan, Andrew Kuhlman of Stages and Michael Hamilton of Stages.
“After the Bible, ‘Don Quixote’ ranks as the biggest-selling book of all time with 500 million copies sold,” said Brennan of the classic book that inspired the musical. He noted it’s one of the first novels ever written. It inspired such idioms as “tilting at windmills” to indicate a noble, but futile endeavor.
“I was required to see ‘Man of La Mancha’ when I went to school at St. Ignatius in Cleveland,” said Brennan. “I didn’t want to go, but after I saw it, I was so inspired that I went three times.
“I ended up doing all of this research on it and finding out that it started out as a non-musicial teleplay in 1959,” said Brennan. “The music is so important to tell the story of this great quest, ‘To dream, the impossible dream.’ That’s what it is all about.”
Michael Hamilton, artistic director and co-founder of Stages along with Jack Lane, picked up where Brennan left off with amazing facts about the musical, which does not pretend to be a totally accurate rendition of the book or about the life of Miguel de Cervantes.
“The story is really all about the power of imagination – to transcend circumstances,” said Hamilton. “What is amazing is that at the time Cervantes wrote this, there were no theatres. The actors moved from town to town and performed anywhere they could. In the case of this story, the play is performed in a prison.”
Indeed, the musical itself is a play within a play in which the “mad” knight Don Quixote, performed by Cervantes, enlists his fellow prisoners in a performance while awaiting his hearing before the Spanish Inquisition.
“And it’s our job here to dream every day,” chimed in Stages’ Associate Producer, Kuhlman, “That is your job when you work in theatre, to dream the impossible dream, to use the powers of imagination.”
The Play’s The Thing
Although the audience in Kirkwood on Sunday, Sept. 8, was appreciative of the discussion by the threesome, the crowd obviously was there for the musical. To paraphrase Shakespeare, “the play was the thing,” and the ovations for performances by James Patterson as Don Quixote, and Amanda Robles as Aldonza, were boisterous and rousing.
The music and singing are not secondary to the plot or just an added accoutrement to the story line. The songs truly move the production along and move the audience as well.
When Quixote tells the wench and part-time prostitute, Aldonza, that she is his lady, Dulcinea, deserving of his respect and eternal loyalty – the marvel of his entreaty is only fully appreciated when Aldonza sings out, “What Does He Want of Me?”
When Quixote declares that her abusers must be comforted after being wounded, because chivalry requires kindness to one’s enemies, the import of that message is only fully appreciated with the first reprise of the classic, “The Impossible Dream.”
When Quixote is about to be carried off to torture and certain death by the Inquisitors, it appears everything is lost. Before they can end his journey of idealism, Quixote himself falls into a coma before the Inquisitors arrive, and seems to succumb to the ugliness and cruelty of his world.
It’s then that Dulcinea implores him to remember everything he has taught her. Quixote awakens briefly, but defiantly, from his death bed, and then implores everyone “to dream the impossible dream ... to run where the brave dare not go.”
Quixote expires, but his quest for a better world goes on. The cast takes up his cause and his battle, and together sing of that duty “to right the unrightable wrong ... to reach the unreachable star.”
Quixote’s glorious quest cannot really be told without the uplifting and inspirational music. “The Man of La Mancha” is not for cynics.
At the discussion before the Sunday performance, Hamilton said he hoped the production would move audiences to see the world “not as it is now, but as what it ought to be.”
“We seem to be in a time when uncaring attitudes and rudeness have become acceptable,” said Hamilton. “My hope is that this production is an inspiration for all of us to reflect on how to make the world a better place.”
Stages Executive Director Jack Lane echoed Hamilton after the performance. He said “The Man of La Mancha” is all about trying to bring chivalry back to our world as well as striving to grasp our “unreachable star.”
Lane and Hamilton may have reached their star with three decades of success with Stages St. Louis and with the building of a new venue in Kirkwood to be ready for their 2021 Season. The two also will receive Lifetime Achievement awards in January 2020 from the St. Louis Arts and Education Council.
“Yes, we have had some success at Stages, but ultimately success has to be measured by whether you have made the world a better place in your own small and humble way,” Lane said.
“This may sound corny, but my parents did raise me to reach for that impossible dream – no matter how hopeless and no matter the naysayers,” said Lane. “I am so pleased that we are concluding this season with ‘La Mancha’ and the message that we all need to be kind and grateful to the people in our world.”