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Steve Tarnow, center, as Don Quixote; Austin Tooley, as Sancho Panza; and Arshia Panicker, as Aldonza, star in “Man of La Mancha,” which opens this weekend at Watters Theater.
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
Theatre dreams big with ‘Man of La Mancha’
November 10, 2011Tweet
For Tom Kremer, there is “no better time than the present” for a production of the classic musical “Man of La Mancha.”
“The story is about dreaming big – and we’re in a place right now in our political life and economic life in this country where we need big dreams,” said Kremer, a professor of theatre and “Man of La Mancha” director. “We need people to believe they can do ‘The Impossible Dream.’”
The Theatre Department will bring the big dreams of “La Mancha” to Watters Theater at 8 p.m. Nov. 11-12 and 18-19 and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 20. Tickets are $18, general admission; $16, faculty, staff, seniors; $10, students and are available by calling 607-777-ARTS (2787) or visiting http://anderson.binghamton.edu.
“Man of La Mancha” tells the story of Miguel de Cervantes, who is thrown into jail during the Spanish Inquisition with his servant, Sancho Panza. In order to save a valuable manuscript from getting into the hands of his fellow inmates, Cervantes conducts a “defense” in which he acts out his book. Cervantes becomes Alonso Quijana, an elderly man who believes he is a noble knight named Don Quixote. The inmates become caught up in the story and take on supporting roles in Quixote’s seemingly mad quest for hope.
The musical, with music by Mitch Leigh, lyrics by Joe Darrion and a book by Dale Wasserman, debuted on Broadway in 1965, and has been featured in four revivals and a feature film.
Graduate students Steve Tarnow (who plays Cervantes/Quixote) and Austin Tooley (as Sancho) both said they benefited from never having seen a stage production of “La Mancha.”
“It’s nice because I was able to enter the (production) without any preconceived ideas,” Tarnow said.
“For years I thought Don Quixote was going through La Mancha and having these adventures,” said Tooley, who like Tarnow was familiar with the show’s songs. “It was only recently that I realized this is a play within a play. That really does affect the urgency of the performance. It’s not just some pastoral tale where you can laugh at the misadventures. There’s a need to tell the story within the play itself.”
Tarnow and Tooley had challenges as they worked to develop their characters.
“In the professional world, this is a role I wouldn’t be considered for just based on the age of the character,” Tarnow said. “Cervantes is 47 and Quijana is 68. What does having a suit of armor on do to mobility? And then there are the speech patterns of an older person. Finding that and integrating that without it being forced was one of the greatest difficulties for me.”
“I’m playing someone who is a loyal friend in every situation, but it’s someone who is struggling as a friend,” Tooley said. “(Sancho) operates as a ground, trying to bring Don Quixote back to earth. He tries to keep him safe and insulate him from the world outside. But through the arc of the narrative, he comes to realize the real truth is in this dream.”
Don Quixote’s dream is best exemplified by the musical’s showstopper, “The Impossible Dream.” In the number, Quixote sings about righting the unrightable wrong and fighting the unbeatable foe in a “glorious quest” to “reach the unreachable star.” With its soaring melody and sing-along lyrics, “Dream” has become a musical standard.
“It’s one of the most pervasive themes, not just as a song but in several reprises, the overture and underscores,” said Zachary Kampler, “La Mancha” musical director. “I think (the writers) knew that was the main theme and they had a gem there that they needed to make use of throughout the fabric of the play.”
Tarnow said his approach to the song is “to be as truthful as possible” as he stands in the spotlight for the emotional solo.
“What do the words of the song really mean to me? To fight the unbeatable foe. What is that?” he said. “All of the examples he uses sum up this idea of the idea. Truth is one of the reasons why people come to see and feel theater. With ‘The Impossible Dream,’ it’s laying it all out: This is everything I am about.”
Kampler has been impressed with Tarnow’s version of the song.
“Steve is very voracious about it,” Kampler said. “He dug into both the drama of the music and the words and is balancing that complementary relationship. I don’t think he’s feeling anxiety as much as excitement and anticipation in conquering it.”
Kampler also is overseeing a 17-member orchestra made up of Binghamton University students. “La Mancha” features no string instruments, except for a bass, Kampler said.
“They are an enthusiastic group,” he said. “A lot of them had not had prior pit experience, but they’ve grabbed on to it and worked together. It’s the best quality I could ask for in an orchestra: an eagerness and willingness to put the work in.”
Kremer said “La Mancha” has benefited from Kampler’s presence.
“Zach is probably the first musical director I’ve had who concerns himself with the forwarding of the dramatic action,” he said. “So many musical directors seem to stop at ‘My pervue is the music. That’s all I am going to do.’ In working with Zach, I felt like I had a colleague rather than somebody who was doing this other part of the show.”
Tarnow believes that the key to the show’s popularity is Don Quixote’s ability to live life to its fullest.
“From the heights of love to the lows of woe and sadness: We see that (on stage) and want that in our lives,” he said. “It’s that want – that wish to be able to live at those extremes every second of your life.”
Kremer praised the cast members and their care and support for each other.
“That support translates into how they work with each other on stage,” he said. “They have a willingness to have fun. There is a tried-and-true statement about theater: If the cast is having fun, the audience will have fun. And if the cast is suffering, well, you can finish the sentence.”