An interview with Alan Paul, Man of La Mancha director and Associate Artistic Director at STC
Can you tell us how you came to direct Man of La Mancha?
The story begins in 2011, when I directed La Mancha at Catholic University. That detail stuck in Michael Kahn’s mind, and on opening night of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum last season, he pulled me aside and said, “Could you do a La Mancha for us?” And I of course said (well, exclaimed), “Yes!”
Did you have any prior personal connection to the musical?
La Mancha is one of those musicals that everyone is supposed to have seen, and oddly enough, I had never seen it. What I had seen was a clip of Richard Kiley singing “The Impossible Dream” from The Ed Sullivan Show. On the first day of rehearsal at Catholic University, I was immediately overwhelmed by the power of the musical. The students were also new to the musical, and at the end of the read-through everyone in the room started crying. Man of La Mancha is really about our own internal battle between cynicism and optimism, something all of us face every day.
What is your approach to the show?
Most people think Man of La Mancha is a musical retelling of Don Quixote, but in fact it’s a story about the writer Cervantes. The story moves between the reality of a Spanish Inquisition prison and Cervantes’ conjuring of the Don Quixote story. My production will highlight the improvisational theatricality of turning everyday objects into props, and our surprisingly easy ability to believe in an imagined reality. Everything in the Don Quixote scenes will come from objects that already exist in the prison and from the trunk Cervantes brings into the prison with him. Everyday objects will transform into the horses that Quixote and Sancho ride, the windmill, Alonso Quijana’s sick-bed, and all of the other key elements. There is a lot of potential for the magic of transformation in the piece.
Can you discuss the connection between Cervantes and Shakespeare?
Shakespeare and Cervantes were contemporaries, and legend has it that they died on the same day in 1616 (although I’m sure they died a few days apart). Dale Wasserman, who wrote the book for the musical, also wrote the 1959 non-musical teleplay I, Don Quixote, which starred Lee J. Cobb. In that version, one of the prisoners is an English spy. There’s a great scene where he asks Cervantes if he is aware of Shakespeare, to which Cervantes says “no.” The truth is, we don’t know if they were aware of each other, but there is a Cervantine quality to Shakespeare, and a Shakespearean quality to Cervantes. That they were writing at the same time is pretty remarkable.
What can you share about casting?
The great Australian star Anthony Warlow is playing Cervantes/Quixote. The show-stopping moments of the musical are his three songs—“Man of La Mancha,” “The Impossible Dream” and “Dulcinea”—and they require a singer who can deliver them with power, nuance and a depth of musicality. Anthony is phenomenal, and for those who aren’t aware of him, this production will be an amazing introduction.
Amber Iman is playing Aldonza. She made her Broadway debut last year playing Nina Simone in Soul Doctor, and has an unbelievable voice and presence. She will be a powerful Aldonza. Nehal Joshi is playing Sancho, and you may know him from the work that he has done at Arena Stage. Although he’s playing a comic role, he has a serious side—he just played Jean Valjean in Les Miserables at Dallas Theater Center.
I’m excited about the combination of these three actors. Their rich talents inspire me deeply, and together we will create a deep re-imagining of this classic musical.
Man of La Mancha begins Mach 17 in Sidney Harman Hall.