The first time a man dressed as a knight in shining armor battled his foes — large windmills — on stage, while singing, was in 1965.
Five Tony Awards and four Broadway revivals later, with productions in numerous languages — from Icelandic to German, Gujarati to Uzbek — the song, "The Impossible Dream," still seems to cross all boundaries.
"The play ultimately is about the power of theater and the power of storytelling and narrative and metaphor in the human imagination and its transformative power," said Charles Morey, Pioneer Theatre Company artistic director and director of "Man of La Mancha," opening Friday.
"I think it's a terrific show, and what I like about it is it's a musical that's really about something," Morey said.
"I tell you first of all, it's a joy," said actor William Michals, who takes on the role of Don Quixote. "Hopefully it's not trite, but the universal message of idealism and striving to live a good life, seeing life as it ought to be rather than as it is, are really valuable tools in making sense of this world."
"This character is a bald-faced idealist," Michals said. "He simply embraces — it's tempting to live life in the most righteous way possible. And there are characters in the play, whether they admit it or not, who need that kind of vision — who need to step back from themselves."
The role of Quixote requires an actor to play three different characters: Cervantes, the man thrown into the dungeon with his man-servant; Alonso Quijana, for a brief time; and, of course, Don Quixote de La Mancha.
"Quixote is constantly speaking in a florid, big, bombastic proclamations and that can be taxing on the voice," Michals said. "Plus it's three different characters doing three difference voices. There are places in the script where it says Quixote has no words, just roars."
Luckily, Michals has years of classical training under his belt as well as some of Broadway's biggest leading male roles to his credit: Emile de Becque in the Tony Award-winning revival of "South Pacific," Javert in "Les Miserables," the Beast in "Beauty and the Beast" and Billy Flynn in "Chicago." After "Man of La Mancha," he'll take on Sweeney in "Sweeney Todd."
After "Man of La Mancha" closes, Michals will perform at Rose Wagner in a solo concert of Broadway classics. "It'll include Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, Jerome Kern, Frank Wildhorn, Lloyd Webber. Some of my biggest numbers," he said.
Tickets for Michals' solo concert are on sale now at arttix.org.
But for now, his focus is squarely on bringing to life a literary and musical icon, while tipping his hat to tradition.
"La Mancha hasn't been produced here in 16 years," Michals said. "It was a favorite of the company, and I'm particularly honored to have been asked to be a part of this production. It's Chuck's (Morey's) last production. It's not lost on me just how momentous this particular show is."
"William has big shoes to fill," Morey said. "The community has the memory of (actor) Bob Peterson playing the part, and it was very much his signature role. But William is terrific.
"The show focuses on Cervantes (Quixote). That's where my focus was 17 years ago and that's where my focus is today. I'm not particularly sentimental about leaving. I've prepared for it emotionally. ... I feel very good about the last 28 years and I'm looking forward to the next 28."