Arts and Entertainment

Dreams and realities meet in ‘Man of La Mancha’

Bainbridge Performing Arts shows
Bainbridge Performing Arts shows 'Man of La Mancha' from May 7-23.
— image credit: Photo courtesy Steven Fogell

Taking helm of an iconic stage production can prove challenging in all sorts of ways, least of all meeting the high expectations of a very high expecting audience.

But Corey McDaniel, director of time-honored musical “Man of La Mancha” at Bainbridge Performing Arts, has one thing going for him not many can claim: “A clean slate.”

That’s because McDaniel has never seen the play. While many theater goers count the show among their favorites, and most are familiar with its catching signature song, “The Impossible Dream,” McDaniel is a real “Man of La Mancha” rookie. But like a recent convert, he’s already singing praises.

“There’s a place in the process where a director, if they’re lucky, falls in love with what they’re doing,” he said. “It really is a timeless piece about believing in yourself and believing in life.”

“Man of La Mancha” opens at 7:30 p.m. on Bainbridge Island tonight, Friday, May 7.

Written by Dale Wasserman and based on his 1965 nonmusical teleplay, “Man of La Mancha” tells the story of a fictionalized Miguel de Cervantes in a play-within-a-play formula that, when all is said and done, is about following your dreams. Tax-collector Cervantes lands in prison for foreclosing on a church, and must perform a play with his fellow prisoners in a bid to keep his belongings while he awaits a hearing before the Spanish Inquisition. The prisoners’ play brings to life Alonso Quijana, an old man who conjures the story of Don Quixote of La Mancha and his loyal servant, Sancho Panza.

“Man of La Mancha” has seen four Broadway revivals since its 1965 debut, and earned five Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Wasserman based it on “The Adventures of Don Quixote,” which Cervantes wrote in the 17th century. Lyrics are by Joe Darion and music by Mitch Leigh.

“It’s such a unique piece of theater that it’s actually studied at a lot of universities,” McDaniel said. Aside from hoisting such a well-loved production, he faces the challenge of a script that crosses worlds often, moving constantly from Cervantes’ existence in prison to the fantastical tale he acts out. It’s a task that requires many of the actors to maintain multiple characters throughout the show. That, and a few other things:

“Thank god for lights and costumes,” McDaniel said. His previous directing credits include last year’s “Once Upon a Mattress” at Bainbridge Performing Arts.

“Man of La Mancha” gives a clear message and a universal theme, and has earned its following from multiple generations, said Bainbridge Performing Arts Artist Director Steven Fogell. He performed in the show when he was in high school, and returns again as a member of McDaniel’s cast.

Fogell created a fitting medieval set, its high prison wall backed by an eery red light, the floors awash in the same red glow.

Kevin Matthew lends capable vocals to Cervantes, alongside Gabriel Carbajal, who brings fits of humor as sidekick Sancho Panza.

Greer Gibbens plays Aldonza, the generally unhappy serving wench who becomes Quixote’s dream Dulcinea. Gibbons speaks in a low, throaty voice, her lower jaw jutted and her upper lip snarled; still a high school student, she belies her age. WU

See 'Man of La Mancha'

From May 7-23 at 200 Madison Avenue North, Bainbridge Island. Shows begin at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and at 3 p.m. Sundays. Tickets can be purchased at www.bainbridgeperformingarts.org, at (206) 842-8569 or at the theater box office. The show is suitable for “PG-13” audiences.

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