June 19, 2014

MPA stages powerful, classic ‘Man of La Mancha’

Modesto Performing Arts brings the classic musical “Man of La Mancha” to life.

The impossible dreamer returns to the Modesto stage for the first time in a dozen years.

Modesto Performing Arts will put on the classic musical “Man of La Mancha,” rooted in the story of Don Quixote, starting Saturday at the Gallo Center for the Arts. The production was last seen in town in 2002, when local arts legends Erik Buck Townsend and Grace Lieberman took on the lead roles in a production of the show to mark Townsend Opera Players’ 20th anniversary.

The new production features a new cast, new costumes and new set yet stays true to the traditional story of a play-within-a-play during the time of the Spanish Inquisition.

“This is based on one of the most powerful stories ever written,” said Modesto Performing Arts Director Paul Tischer. “Even people who say they don’t know the story know ‘The Impossible Dream.’ It’s a song everyone can relate to, having an impossible dream. We all dream, and that’s what Don Quixote does – he dreams.”

The Modesto Performing Arts staging features veteran Merced actor Curtis Nelson as Don Quixote and Modesto actress Krista Joy Serpa as his love interest, Aldonza. Nelson and Serpa have been in a number of the company’s productions, including last year’s “42nd Street.” Rounding out the main trio is Elk Grove actor Donn Bradley, making his Modesto Performing Arts debut as Quixote’s loyal servant, Sancho Panza.

The cast of some 25 local performers has been rehearsing since mid-May for the musical. The original 1965 Broadway production won five Tony Awards, including best musical. The story of a mad knight and his various misadventures in pursuit of chivalrous deeds also was turned into a movie in 1972 featuring Peter O’Toole and Sophia Loren.

Tischer, who is directing the show, said despite the tale being set in the late 16th century, the story’s themes remain timeless. From war and death to homelessness and poverty, the issues could be contemporary. While Quixote’s life is filled with fanciful and humorous experiences, Nelson said, at its core, it is just about the human experience.

“There is everything from birth to death,” he said. “It grabs hold of these emotions everyone experiences and condenses them into a wonderful story.”

As the seen-it-all Aldonza, a server at the inn and a part-time prostitute, Serpa said her character at first resists the wild-eyed optimism of Quixote. But, like the audience, she eventually is won over by him.

“The whole point of his song ‘The Impossible Dream’ is to continue to believe in the good, despite adversity,” Serpa said. “On a personal level, it’s about believing in yourself. Only when you do that can you see your true beauty and worth.”

Still, there is always the little issue of Quixote’s sanity to contend with. As his pragmatic manservant Sancho Panza, Bradley said whether Quixote is nuts or not isn’t really the point.

“I think society perceives dreams are crazy,” he said. “Most people look at idealists and say, ‘Why are they not normal?’ But (Sancho) follows him because he craves that better world Quixote sees.”

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