Throughout history, people often have found the vision and motivation to overcome an obstacle or challenge that seemed insurmountable. But throughout Broadway's history, Man of La Mancha might be the only musical to capture this scenario in a single song. The Tony Award-winning play's signature tune, The Impossible Dream, is an iconic piece in musical theater.
Man of La Mancha, a touring production of which comes to the EKU Center for the Arts in Richmond on Tuesday, is a unique retelling of Miguel de Cervantes' literary masterpiece Don Quixote. The play follows Cervantes as he is locked in prison in the 16th century during the Spanish Inquisition. As he awaits trial for crimes against the church, prisoners hold a trial of their own in which Cervantes would have to give up all his possessions if found guilty, including his prized manuscript for Don Quixote. To save his literary work from being burned, he offers his defense by acting out his beloved play among the prisoners, transforming himself into Don Quixote, a chivalrous and brave knight set on a quest battling evil for the good of man.
The touring production of Man of La Mancha features key players whose own successful careers in theater have roots in the classic musical.
Jack E. Curenton, who plays Cervantes/Quixote, is reprising a role he first tackled 38 years ago, when he did summer theater in college. He said the nature of the character has stuck with him throughout his career.
"Taking it on then, you want to act and you want to get every part you can," Curenton said. "I've sort of lived this character my whole life. He's a dreamer. He sees good where there's bad. He looks for the best part."
Now, as he again takes on this character, Curenton said he's bringing several decades' worth of life experience to the role, but also a youthful exuberance.
"My particular spin on this is I make him fun. He's like a kid. He's like a 12-year-old," Curenton said. "And you want to go along with that exciting ride."
The production's director, Jeffrey B. Moss, also was influenced by Man of La Mancha at a young age. Growing up in New York City, he went to see the original production in Connecticut in 1965 before it made its move to Broadway.
"The way the story is told in this musical, the play within a play, the simple theatrics of it, left a great impression on me," Moss said. "This has been a joy to come back to it and to try to take what the authors were saying to us and present that in a way that's interesting for the people that are coming into the theater today."
Moss said getting the play right was all about finding the right actors. But, as the The Impossible Dream has proved, the musical's songs do a lot of the heavy lifting.
"They're great songs, they're fun to sing, they're fun to listen to and, in the play, they do great work as storytellers," Moss said. "I think that's why it fits into that classic mode because the songs do a lot of work. That's what makes great theater."
With this Broadway tour, the cast and crew of Man of La Mancha are taking joy in bringing a classic to life and bringing its music and message to a new generation of fans.
"Every time I do a show, I treat it like it's opening night," Curenton said, "because I don't know what kid might be out there in the audience that might be changed."