Man of La Mancha Revived to Mark 50th Anniversary of Broadway Premiere

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Sedos Man of La Mancha London 2015

This image by Michael Smith shows a scene from Sedos’ production of Man of La Mancha. Copyright image courtesy of Sedos, used with permission. All rights reserved.

Sedos, one of London’s most well-respected amateur theatre companies, presents Man of La Mancha at the Bridewell Theatre, from 25th November to 5th December 2015.

With lyrics by Joe Darion and music by Mitch Leigh, this challenging production enjoyed its first Broadway performance on 22nd November 1965, winning five Tony awards. This Sedos revival marks the 50th anniversary almost to the day.

Man of La Mancha –Inspired by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s Don Quixote

Inspired by the 17th century novel, Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (known simply as Cervantes), Dale Wasserman created Man of La Mancha in 1959 as a non-musical teleplay.

Wasserman’s play was further developed when he collaborated with Joe Darion, who wrote the lyrics, and Mitch Leigh, who wrote the music, to give us Man of La Mancha, a “musical within a play.” The show’s Broadway premiere took place at ANTA Washington Square Theatre in Greenwich Village, winning five Tony awards.

Translated into more than fifteen languages, Man of La Mancha is one of the most played musicals of all time, with such memorable numbers as Dulcinea and The Impossible Dream.

Man of La Mancha – the Plot

Enter the dark and dismal dungeon of the Spanish Inquisition if you dare! While awaiting trial before the Spanish Inquisition, Cervantes uses his storytelling skills to entertain his fellow prisoners, relieving the despair of the gloomy dungeon. Assuming the persona of Don Quixote, a wannabe knight, Cervantes, aided and abetted by his trusted manservant Sancho Panza, take us on a journey overflowing with love, laughter and unruly windmills.

Man of La Mancha – the Challenges

Every musical, every play, has its own particular challenges, but a musical within a play is even more difficult to pull off. Co-directors Roger Harwood and Dawn Harrison-Wallace give us a superb production with outstanding teamwork, and it’s this teamwork that is so important. With every cast member portraying at least one character, or sometimes two, or even three different personae, everyone must keep their wits about them, and they certainly do.

Man of La Mancha by Sedos

Man of La Mancha includes well-known scenes from the ‘imagined’ story. Image by Michael Smith. Copyright image courtesy of Sedos, used with permission. All rights reserved.

With clever use of lighting, minimal scenery and props, and extraordinary use of the performance space, the cast take us back and forth, from the depths of dungeon to the magical countryside of La Mancha. They achieve a fine balance between slapstick comedy and pathos and reflection.

Excellent musical direction and choreography, together with good diction, and tightly focused action, make this a very slick, and enjoyable, production.

An Interview With Co-Director Roger Harwood

Decoded Arts: You recently directed the Sedos production of A Little Night Music. These two plays are so different so how does your approach differ?

Roger Harwood: Both A Little Night Music and Man of La Mancha were significant projects from our perspective – each required time and reflection to conceive a vision that was right for Sedos and the Bridewell Theatre and then decide how best to bring this to life.

A Little Night Music, whilst also a strong ensemble piece, has a more traditional feel in terms of structure (a musical play centred around a number of romantic alliances set in turn-of-the-century Sweden which is wrapped in Sondheim’s sumptuous score). Here the focus was around characterisation for each of the larger than life protagonists and of course doing justice to the music.

Man of La Mancha has provided a very different challenge as it is more of a concept musical, where the over-arching metaphor (the way the story is told through the use of our imagination) is just as important than the story itself. This makes for a deceptively complex piece and means every member of the company (whether a lead or member of the ensemble) needs to understand what it is we are trying to achieve and the pivotal role they each play in achieving this aim. The omnipresent prisoner audience, for example, needs to support the play acting in a way that draws us into the action as opposed to pulling focus.

Decoded Arts: What are the main challenges in this production?

Roger Harwood: Every member of the cast plays more than one role – one ‘real’ (the prisoner in the Inquisition dungeon) and one ‘imagined’ (in Cervantes’ story of Don Quixote). This has required the directors and actors to think carefully about how to portray the shift between reality and illusion, particularly given the book is not divided into clear scenes (it intentionally keeps the action moving and requires the audience to work with the prisoners in using their imagination to bring the story within the story to life).

It has also proved to be a very physical piece (much of the story is told through sections of physical theatre such as the combat and abduction scenes). We have been fortunate to have worked with our Fight Director, Dan Styles, on this side of things and enjoyed learning more about this important aspect of stagecraft.

Man of La Mancha also provides a number of sharp emotional twists and turns, ranging from slapstick bawdy humour to intense and uncomfortable moments and ultimately (we hope!) pathos and reflection. Getting the style and levels right for each of these has meant some trial and error and the patience and dedication of a hugely supportive cast.

Decoded Arts: When performers present two, or sometimes three characters, how difficult is it to switch from one persona to another? How do you represent each different persona?

Roger Harwood: We spent a considerable amount of time upfront understanding everyone’s back story as a prisoner. Every prisoner (whether it is scripted or not) has a history, a reason for being in prison, a place in the prison pecking order and an immediate response to Cervantes’ arrival in the prison. This has helped considerably in terms of shifting between the prisoner and the imagined character(s) they play (where the script offers many more clues!), as has working on differences in both physicality and vocal quality.

Decoded Arts: What qualities were you looking for at the auditions for Man of La Mancha?

Sedos Man of La Mancha - Don Quixote tells a story.

Man of La Mancha offers both strong emotional twists and turns and also a bawdy sense of humor appropriate to Cervantes’ era. Image by Michael Smith. Copyright image courtesy of Sedos, used with permission. All rights reserved.

Roger Harwood: Storytellers, first and foremost. Because the show relies on very little set and minimal props and costumes, it was essential to assemble a company that could capture the imagination of the audience and tell them the story of both errant Knight, Don Quixote and the man responsible for his creation, Don Miguel de Cervantes.

Decoded Arts: All productions have their moments, humorous, disastrous, or best of all, successful. What it is about this one that will stay with you forever?

Roger Harwood: Our first full run through. Given the (by necessity) piecemeal and often out of sequence way we had to block the show, it was a huge relief to see just how well the show had come together and how it flowed as a piece.

It is a shame that Dale Wasserman, Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion never collaborated again, but not at all surprising the musical has become the most produced of all time (notwithstanding its very few outings in London over the years). We are proud and excited to have the opportunity to present it at the Bridewell on its actual 50th Birthday!

Man of La Mancha – An Outstanding Performance – A Great Night Out

Once again Sedos rises to the challenge. Man of La Mancha is an outstanding production and a thoroughly entertaining evening out!

Sedos’s Plans for the Next Few Months

  • Pornography – 26th-30th January 2016
  • I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change – 8th-12th March 2015
  • Sedos on Tour: Such Stuff as Dreams Are Made On – dates to be confirmed
  • Reefer Madness – 17th-21st May 2016
  • Whose Life is it Anyway? – 21st-25th June 2016

With such a varied programme of forthcoming productions Sedos is always seeking to recruit new members, either on stage or backstage. If you can sing or dance, sew or paint, there will always be a warm welcome at Sedos.

© Copyright 2015 Frances Spiegel, All rights Reserved. Written For: Decoded Arts

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