PEMBROKE — The story of folk hero Don Quixote has been translated into 48 languages, and this week local audiences will be treated to the story as told in yet another dialect — the language of music.
The 1965 Broadway classic “Man of La Mancha” is coming to the Givens Performing Arts Center at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke for a four-day run, Wednesday through Friday at 8 each night, and Saturday at 7 p.m. And for the first time in the school’s musical theatre program’s history, the show will be performed free to the public.
“This time there is absolutely no charge to anyone,” said Hal Davis, the show’s director and the university’s coordinator of musical theatre. “I can tell you why to. We used to charge for tickets, but as it turns out, when you start charging ticket prices, the publishers want a cut of that — so as it has been in the past, we never managed to make enough with the shows to pay the publisher their fee. Finally, I asked ‘what if I had no admission at all?’ and that was apparently fine with them and it dramatically cut down our costs.”
The show is an adaptation of Miguel Cervante’s 1605 Spanish novel titled “The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha,” or in Spanish, “El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha.”
The musical parts from the novel’s original storyline slightly by using the arrest of author Cervante as a framing device. Cervante and his manservant have been thrown into a dungeon by the Spanish Inquisition. He chooses to mount his defense through a performance of the story of Don Quixote, a hero who was so taken with stories of chivalry that he was driven delusional.
The Pembroke production, which is being performed by students, takes a slightly different spin on the musical, by replacing the depiction of a 16th century dungeon with a futuristic dystopian prison.
“‘I placed it, the frame work, in 2050, the near future, because, I guess, if someone asked ‘who would the modern representation of the inquisition be today?’ ‘Big Brother’ would come to mind,” Davis said. “That sort of big shadowy government that taps phones and monitors everyone with video cameras. Cervante is a actor and a playwright, so even in this unusual situation, he wants to put on a show with the prisoners, all the while their actions are being watched by these cameras around the room.”
Another change for the production, said Davis, will be the addition of Spanish guitar accompaniment, provided by local musician Carlos Castilla.
Since 1965, the musical, which was a collaborative effort by playwright Dale Wasserman, lyricist Joe Darion and musician Mitch Leigh, has earned five Tony Awards, run for 2,328 performances, and experienced four Broadway revivals. It is possibly best known for its principal song, “The Impossible Dream,” which has since become an American standard.
“That [song] is something that every baritone needs in his repertoire,” said Nygel D. Robinson, who is playing both Cervante and Quixote. “I sang it before this show and I thought I understood it then, but I don’t think you understand that song until you have had the journey of this show. To really know what you’re talking about, you have to know this show. Anyone can sing it pretty but if you get what it is you are saying that is what makes it powerful.”
Robinson, who is majoring in theatre, considers the show’s overall message important, one he feels audiences will carry with them long after the curtains drop.
“It has this beautiful takeaway,” Robinson said. “The fact that, I’m a human, we’re all human, we see the world as what it is, and we are generally pessimistic. We see the bad but miss the underlying good, but Don Quixote sees the good. Sure, he is crazy, so to speak, but is he crazy for seeing the good in everything around him, or are we for not?”