I spent the better part of the week trying to figure out an angle on "Man of La Mancha." It's been done before - a lot - just eight years ago on Maui to be exact.
So what exactly is "Man of LaMancha" about? It started as a teleplay on the "DuPont Show of the Month," in 1959. Rather than tell the straight tale of "Don Quixote," creator Dale Wasserman sets the story through its author's eyes, Miguel de Cervantes, who was imprisoned during the Spanish Inquisition. Cervantes and his servant are attacked by the prison population whom desire his possessions. Wasserman abandons vast chunks of the whimsical fairy tale quality of "Don Quixote," and instead tells the story through Cervantes somewhat abysmal existence.
Cervantes, like Van Gogh, did not achieve artistic importance until after he was dead. Perhaps it is Wasserman, who through Cervantes, dreams through the fictional Quixote? In an effort to defend himself Cervantes acts out his manuscript, "Don Quixote," to the amusement of the prisoners. The lead character, Quixote, is a mentally ill man that believes himself to be a Spanish Conquistador of old with delusional adventures that range from mistaking a servant girl, Aldonza (Hoku Pavao Jones), as a princess, a seedy tavern as a castle and a windmill as a giant that he must slay. All the while the reality of Cervantes' situation looms. People weren't found not guilty during the Spanish Inquisition and when Cervantes is removed from the prison for his trial, his fate is rather obvious.
Hoku Pavao Jones (from left), Dale Button and Francis Tau‘a star in “Man of La Mancha,” opening Feb. 1 at Steppingstone Playhouse.
JACK GRACE photo
The current Miguel de Cervantes/Don Quixote, Dale Button, is the playing the role for his third time. So what makes it different? Why does this show return over and over again? I think it may be the song "The Impossible Dream." Less than my lifetime ago, Broadway songs were covered by pop singers and became huge Top 40 hits. "The Impossible Dream" was one of the last of those. My favorite cover is Elvis'. It may not be the most vocally perfect version, but when he sang it you felt it.
I'm going to generalize here, so finish reading before you get mad at me. Women love it when Elle Woods conquers all, but guys don't buy it. Guys say, "That wouldn't happen in a courtroom!" Quixote doesn't win, and Ruddy never starred for Notre Dame, but they tried.
"If you give up, you lose," said Button.
Guys roll their eyes at the end of "The Notebook," but women say "Really? Seriously?" when a guy gets misty because George Bailey has a lot of friends that loaned him a little money.
"As boys we're raised to be these gallant men, but we lose that. Women see the ugliness, the brutality of the show. I think men see it through Quixote's eyes," said Francis Tau'a, who plays Sancho, Quixote's sidekick.
"It's set in a prison, and the leading lady is the town slut, but Quixote sees her as the most beautiful woman," added Button.
"You become a dreamer out of sheer will, and others become the people they were always meant to be through one person's inspiration. It takes a special person to see that," said Tau'a.
I asked if Quixote was crazy.
"He's created his own reality," said Button. "Yes, he's a few sandwiches short of a picnic, but we need visionaries. It gives us hope."
Director David Johnston offered his thoughts: "It's so much easier to be cynical, and it's hard to believe in the inherent goodness of people, so when you meet an eternal optimist it's easier to think they are crazy. If we all saw the world that way, it would be a much more hopeful place. I hope people leave with that and see things a little differently."
"He changes everything," said Button. "He changed the prison, he entertained them and he's given them all hope."
Saying you don't like Don Quixote is like saying Forrest Gump is an idiot. His likeability is best summed up in Sancho's solo number, "I Really Like the Guy." Past Quixote's range from Lee J. Cobb, Richard Kiley, Robert Goulet, Hal Linden, Peter O'Toole, John Lithgow, Raul Julia and Brian Stokes Mitchell. The original Broadway production won five Tony Awards and has been revived three times over the past 45 years. On Maui, it has now been produced three times in the past 20 years. "La Mancha" can always run the risk of being too dark or too glossed over with its absurd comedy.
"This production is completely different" (than his two prior portrayals), said Button. "Many of my choices are new, I'm more in Cervantes' body, and that is a lot harder emotionally."
"I never saw myself as a Sancho," said Tau'a. "I had to rethink everything. He's the sidekick, but he's the one that allows the audience to go on this journey."
"Somewhere in the middle," is how Johnston describes the upcoming MAPA production. "It's not one or the other (comedy or drama). Life has great joys and moments of sorrow. Sometimes we have to fight those windmills and see the humor in it at the same time."
Twenty years ago, I had a roommate that would sing the title song from "Man of La Mancha" on piano at 2 a.m. I wanted to kill him. He was always late on the rent and dreamed of being an actor. Today he lives in New York City and is a very successful actor.
* "Man of La Mancha," by Dale Wasserman, with lyrics by Joe Darion, music by Mitch Leigh, and directed by David C. Johnston opens Feb. 1 at Steppingstone Playhouse at Queen Ka'ahumanu Center. It will show at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Feb. 24. Tickets are $25 adults, $22 seniors and $18 students (18 and younger). Tickets on Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 3) are $15 for all seats.
For more information or tickets, visit www.mauiacademy.org, call 244-8760 or purchase through the customer service kiosk at Queen Ka'ahumanu Center.
Catch "One Hot Winter's Night," an evening sexy, saucy and bawdy song and dance at 7:30 Friday at the Historic Iao Theater. The 1940s-style burlesque revue will feature live performances by some of Maui's best entertainers including the Kit Kat Club Cabaret, Jonna Ahn, Kathy Collins, Lia Krieg, Chino LaForge, Alison Mikes, Casey Murphy and others.
"One Hot Winter's Night" is an adult-themed nostalgic burlesque show, and is not appropriate for children younger than 17. Tickets are $17 to $28 and available through the Maui OnStage box office by calling 242-6969 or order online at www.mauionstage.com.
Maui OnStage, in partnership with Whole Foods Market Maui, will present the third annual Maui Fringe Theater Festival Feb. 1 through 3 at the Historic Iao Theater.
The 2013 festival of original one-act plays will feature "John Brown's Body," by Will Hausman (and starring Paul Janes-Brown as the legendary abolitionist John Brown), "They Call Me Q!" by Qurrat Ann Kadwani, "Joy and Jack" by Rick Scheideman, "Turner & Hooch 2: Murder at the Wackenheim Manor" by Julia Wackenheim, and "Celestial Mechanics" by Matthew Gurewitsch.
There will also be showcase performances by 2011 award winner Sharyn Stone, Pat Masumoto, Virginia Sandell, Chino La Forge, the Ultraviolets, Adaptations Dance Theater and excerpts from "Shout!: the Mod Musical."
* Tickets for individual performances are available at the door for $10. For tickets, call 242-6969 or purchase online at www.mauionstage.com.
Maui's Judy Ridofino and Judy's Gang will present "SOS - Salute to Our Soldiers," at 7 p.m. Feb. 2 the Maui Arts & Cultural Center's Castle Theater. More than 100 dancers from ages 3 to "seasoned citizens" will strut their stuff in this patriotic dance presentation ranging from "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" to "ROCK in the USA." Special guests include Jimmy C on drums, Al Scheck on guitar and singer Tia Cabrera.
* Tickets are $14 for adults, $10 for seniors, students and children. Children younger than 5 are free. To purchase tickets for any MACC event, visit the MACC box office, call 242-7469 or order online at www.mauiarts.org.
Giordano Dance Chicago (GDC), the original jazz dance company, which is celebrating more than 50 years of excellence, performs at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 7 at the MACC's Castle Theater.
Giordano choreographers have designed for Madonna, Jennifer Lopez, and most recently on the hit TV show "So You Think You Can Dance." GDC, known for it's high-energy, flexibility and athleticism has been described as "two hours of wow."
* Tickets are $12, $32, $45 (plus applicable fees).