The 1965 premiere of “Man of La Mancha” was “a production nobody wanted, booked into a theatre nobody else would have and ignored by everyone except the public.”
That description came directly from the show’s author, Dale Wasserman, who also said, “Prior to opening and during its tryout, it had been adjudicated by the wise men of Broadway as bearing a certain shy charm but a dim future, incapable of competing against the heavyweights.”
Yet “Man of La Mancha” ran on Broadway until 1971 and won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Composer, Best Lyricist and Best Director. It was hailed by Life magazine as “a metaphysical smasheroo” and has gone “onward to glory” (quoting a lyric) to become “one of the greatest successes of our time,” according to Tams-Witmark Music Library.
Dave Tinney, who directs the Hale Center Theater Orem production, said, “The story is timeless; a man descends into a prison to tell a parable that hopefully will redeem the prisoners and help them to see the nobility in themselves. I think this connects particularly to our audience.”
The story resonates with theatergoers because the theme instructs them to “see past the exterior of what things and people appear to be, and see them for what they might truly be,” he said.
Tinney’s objective is to make apparent the messages of transformation and redemption, which sometimes can be obscured in the concept the musical adopts.
“Because the show is a play within a play, and the Cervantes character plays three different roles, it can sometimes get confusing for the audience,” he said. “I am trying to make sure the story is as clear as possible and that we never lose track of the fact that Cervantes is putting on an ‘entertainment’ for the prisoners. I'm trying to maintain the theatrical storytelling conventions rather than trying to let it get too literal.”
He described the “Man of La Mancha” score as “epic and stirring.”
The songs, composed by Joe Darion and Mitch Leigh, include “It’s All the Same,” “I’m Only Thinking of Him” and “Little Bird,” along with the American Songbook classic “The Impossible Dream (The Quest)” — which with its unwavering lyrics embodies Don Quixote’s determination: “To fight for the right / Without question or pause, / To be willing to march / Into hell for a heavenly cause.”
“Man of La Mancha” was adapted from “The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha,” and the Spanish novel is considered to “represent the birth of modern literature in the 20th century,” according to DonQuijote.org.
Tinney agrees. “Cervantes’ book is a masterpiece, and he has been called the father of the modern novelist,” he said. “Even his contemporary, William Shakespeare, referenced him in one of his plays.”
If you go ...
What: “Man of La Mancha”
Where: Hale Center Theater Orem, 225 W. 400 North, Orem
When: June 26–Aug. 9, 7:30 p.m., with 3 p.m. matinees most Saturdays
How much: $11-$21