Beginning Tuesday and running through Aug. 5th, audiences will have the opportunity to witness the musical misadventures of Don Quixote and his uninspiring stallion, Rocinante, when Nittany Theatre at The Barn performs “Man of La Mancha.” The theater’s second summer stock selection promises to be just as captivating as the production that Miguel de Cervantes stages for his fellow inmates in this “play within a play.”
“ ‘Man of La Mancha’ is a big production for the Nittany Theatre,” said Rob Arnold, who plays Paco. “With this being a show within a show set in the 15th century, there are a lot of challenges. The production centers on the original author of Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes, and his servant being sent to prison as heretics during the Spanish Inquisition, and he is telling Quixote’s story to, and also using, his fellow prisoners as cast members. I think the duality of all of the characters is what makes this show really stand out.”
“This approach can be risky due to potential audience confusion, but it significantly enhances the production because it is how Cervantes proceeds with his defense during the trial held in the prison by the inmates,” added Deb Saxe, who is playing Aldonza.
After first premiering on Broadway in 1965, “Man of La Mancha” has become a staple of the stage for theater groups across the globe. From the familiar notes of “The Impossible Dream” to those iconic whirling windmills, Nittany Theatre at the Barn carries the heavy task of upholding the proud traditions that accompany this renowned masterpiece.
“I do feel some pressure to honestly portray Aldonza, especially because she and I have so much in common,” Saxe said. “Being able to relate to a character can be immensely helpful, but when you feel like you share common traits and attitudes, being onstage can feel like portraying a highly dramatized, alter-ego of sorts. Aldonza requires tremendous vocal and acting chops, which is another reason why I feel pressure to do the role justice.”
Alex Santoriello, who plays the legendary Don Quixote, said the play has long been one of his all-time favorites.
“Dale Wasserman, the play’s writer, was truly a genius who created something really special that has been brilliantly done for years,” Santoriello said.
“As an actor, we can tend to get lost in a character, but with this story, we all have the added issue of ‘what character are we now?’ ” Arnold said. “There are moments in the action when the story is interrupted and we are back in the prison, so we all have to drop our in show character and return to our prisoner character. Getting this correct is probably going to be one of our greatest triumphs and challenges.”
In addition to finding her character — as well as herself — on stage, “Man of La Mancha” also serves as a family affair for Saxe. She will not only be performing alongside her father, Dave, (who also serves as the theater’s producing artistic director), but will be sharing the stage with other members of her family too.
“Any time that I get to perform with my family, it is a special production,” Saxe said. “My father, Dave, plays Sancho, my mother Laura is the housekeeper, and my brother Andrew is the Governor and Dr. Carrasco. Beyond being able to perform with my family, this production is special because it is by far the most challenging role I have ever performed. As a performer, I love to be challenged because I believe it helps you grow.”
Saxe said that Nittany Theatre at the Barn is thrilled to be bringing the sun-drenched hills of the Spanish countryside to Boalsburg.
“It is truly a captivating, timeless story,” Saxe said. “Whether an audience is sitting in a theater or curled up on a chair, I think that the show’s staying power is rooted in the way it connects with or relates to an audience.”
For Santoriello, the true message of the show is “the impossible dream,” he said.
“It’s about becoming something that you couldn’t imagine becoming and that’s an idea that resonates with so many people,” he said. “As an actor, I love moving people and making them feel good and making them cry at the same time. This magnificent play enables me to do that, and I am so grateful to be a part of this wonderful show again.”
IF YOU GO
- What: Nittany Theatre at the Barn’s “Man of La Mancha”
- When: Tuesday-Aug. 5
- Where: Nittany Theatre at the Barn, Boalsburg Estate Drive, Boalsburg
- Info: 321-2799, nittanytheatre.org