The story of “Man of La Mancha” is that of the world’s first novel — Miguel de Cervantes’s 17th-century classic, “The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote of La Mancha.” Adapted from this masterpiece, “Man of La Mancha” follows the fictional story of Cervantes, who is thrown into prison during the Spanish Inquisition.

Torehan Sharman/Daily
Torehan Sharman/Daily

“Man of La Mancha”

Tonight and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2:00 p.m.
The Power Center
Tickets from $7

In conjunction with the University Activities Center, MUSKET, a student-run theater program, will be performing “Man of La Mancha” for its spring show under the direction of Rebecca Spooner, a junior in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance.

After the first time she saw a production of the show, Spooner fell in love with the story of Cervantes and his creation, Don Quixote. She has always wanted to bring a production of it to the stage.

“I thought it would be a fun, different show for college students and that we could do it well,” Spooner said.

In the show, Cervantes, a Spanish nobleman, must use his imagination and poetic gift to win over his fellow lower-class inmates, as they wish to burn his precious manuscript that will one day become the famous story of Don Quixote. In this sense, a play within a play evolves: The story of Quixote is told within the story of Cervantes’s time as a prisoner.

“In my mind, it was important that we stayed within the prison the entire time,” she said. “Except for the trunk of props and costumes that he has, everything had to be created from the prison. So, for rehearsal, we had a lot of fun. There was a day we basically turned into eight-year-olds and made forts out of a bunch of props. I would say, ‘Here is a bowl, a spoon, a blanket and this — make something.’ ”

According to Music Director and Conductor Danny Abosch, a junior in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, the play within a play concept directly affects the show’s score.

“All the music in the show takes place in the play within a play, so it’s really the music that is coming out of Miguel de Cervantes’s mind,” Abosch said.

Abosch goes on to lament at the fact that many theater-goers only know the show’s most famous song, “The Impossible Dream.”

“The rest of the music is overlooked, and sadly so, because there are a lot of gems in the show besides ‘The Impossible Dream,’ ” he said.

In addition to being famous for its show-stopping number, “Man of La Mancha” also has a stigma attached — the “stuffy, old-timer’s musical.” Just as the score has more to offer than “The Impossible Dream,” the show itself, according to Spooner, does not deserve this notoriety.

“The show has a stigma of a very classical ‘your parents’ musical,’ but there’s so much about this show that is pertinent and relevant to us today,” she said. “(It’s) fun and raunchy and sexy. This is not the upper-class musical world.”

According to Music, Theatre & Dance sophomore Reed Campbell, the characters of Don Quixote and Cervantes, both of whom he plays, are extremely relevant to contemporary audiences.

“The dignity and the courage and the passion that Cervantes’s character (exhibits) is the epitome of what we all want to be,” he said.

Like Spooner and Abosch, Campbell is also interested in the play-within-a-play concept.

“It’s cool because it gives me the chance to play two different characters,” Campbell said.

“It gives me a world to play in. There’s the stage world, and then the stage-within-a-stage world that can be even more heightened and even more truthful,” he added.

Campbell believes that “Don Quixote is the inner workings of Cervantes’s mind,” which creates a challenging acting situation.

“It was challenging differentiating Cervantes and Quixote … and it was challenging (to make) Quixote simple and noble instead of cheesy and ignorant,” he said.

Spooner also reflected on the duplicity of Cervantes and Quixote.

“(Cervantes) has seen the world for the terrible place that it is, and his idealist, dreamer of a knight sees the world as it should be. He’s sees the good in everything,” she said.

With the complexity of the title character, the immense talent necessary to fill the traditionally difficult roles and the potentially cheesy themes of “dreaming the impossible dream,” Spooner was conscientious of making the show simple and honest instead of a series of clichés.

“It’s very easy to do this show badly. It’s easy to take the things that could be cheesy and make them cheesy,” she said.

But Spooner believes that, with this cast and crew, “the cheese works.” When Quixote speaks of idealism and chivalry, “it’s not an eye-rolling moment, it’s an honest moment.”

This sense of mystical idealism has even serendipitously manifested itself in the show’s production process.

“We rented our costumes from Goodspeed Opera House, which is actually … the location of the very first production of ‘Man of La Mancha’ back in ’64,” Spooner said. “These are the costumes from that production.”

But according to Abosch, students shouldn’t see “Man of La Mancha” just for the original costumes, the impressive score or the famous story line.

“It’s a way to come see your classmates in a role that you don’t normally see them,” he said. “The themes in the show are so relevant and the idea of ‘dreaming the impossible dream’ … (is) a really powerful sentiment.”

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