KPBS AIRDATE: OCTOBER 17, 1991
It may be something of an impossible dream, trying to re-create a production 25 years later, with some of the same cast. Kind of like trying to squeeze into your wedding gown a quarter-century after the fact. Even if it fits, it doesn’t look quite right.
Well, that’s sort of the situation with the 25 year anniversary production of the blockbuster musical, “Man of La Mancha.” The revival is about to go on tour, winding up on Broadway in the spring. Brand-new sets and costumes replicate the 1965 originals. And as luck and scheduling would have it, the tech work is being tried out here in San Diego, at the Civic Theatre, produced by Starlight Musical Theatre. Quite a coup.
The original Broadway director, Albert Marre, is here. And the original Aldonza, Marre’s other half, Joan Diener. The lead actor, David Holliday, actually made his Broadway debut in the title role. And there are at least three other members of the original cast.
It all sounds great. And it is very good. But not great. It should be the definitive production. But there’s some level of energy, of group cohesion, of pizzazz, missing. It’s certainly not because of the story or music. Based on the 17th century classic by Miguel de Cervantes, the story is brilliantly framed in a play-within-a-play structure, with the author himself as centerpoint.
In the play, Cervantes, who had worked as a tax collector to support his habit of writing, is imprisoned for foreclosing on a church. As he awaits the Spanish Inquisition, his fellow inmates put him on trial; he is accused of being “”an idealist, a bad poet and an honest man.” He pleads guilty, and in his defense, he convinces the other prisoners to act out the story of his most famous character, the windmill-tilting old gaffer who seeks to right the world’s wrongs.
It’s a timeless but sentimental tale, about virtue and chivalry, seeing the world as it should be and not as it is. Just try to get through that deathbed scene without one single tear. I dare you. And try to ignore those unforgettable songs: The Impossible Dream, Little Bird, Aldonza the Whore.
One other thing that’s hard to ignore is the controversy surrounding this production. The co-creators are battling each other like windmills. Mitch Leigh, the original composer and producer, wants to preserve the show as it is. Dale Wasserman, the writer, is calling for “a new director and a fresh design,” to reframe the show for the 90’s. Lawsuits are being threatened on all sides, even as Raul Julia and Sheena Easton warm up for the road show and Broadway.
So maybe this is the last hurrah for the original old Don and his Aldonza. Maybe not. But if history’s here in the making, maybe you’d better catch it, quick.
©2001 Patté Productions Inc.