This month and next, the McLean Community Players will be bringing the story of Don Quixote to the Alden Theatre stage with a production of “Man of La Mancha.”
The Tony Award-winning musical and long-running Broadway favorite is based on the Miguel de Cervantes’ 17th-century tale of Alonso Quijano – a retiree, indoctrinated in the ways of chivalry and courtly romance through his readings, who leaves behind his country life to become the armor-clad Don Quixote de la Mancha and live out knight-errant exploits.
The musical differs slightly from the centuries-old novel: The book’s author, Cervantes, is fictionalized, adding a play-within-a-play dimension to the narrative. Cervantes, awaiting trial by the Spanish Inquisition, attempts to win the favor of fellow prisoners by acting out one of his works, and thus becomes Alonso Quijano and with him transforms into Don Quixote.
The hit ballad spawned by the musical, “The Impossible Dream,” is delivered at key points throughout the plot, and its message is simple: Reach for those lofty ambitions, and let nothing stand in the way.
It’s in that message that Mike Baker Jr., who plays the three linked characters, feels a kinship with Don Quixote, and he hopes that audiences take that message to heart.
Baker groups the Don Quixote role in with those classic aged theatrical figures performed by veteran actors. Baker, himself, holds to the actor’s credo of never revealing his age, but said he is “pleasantly under 60” and has played several roles since coming to the stage later in life, at the age of 34.
Baker was tasked in “Man of La Mancha” with imagining how to bring the three distinct characters to life.
“It’s really interesting,” Baker said. “You really have to, when you first look at the script, scratch your head and figure out what is going on.”
His inspiration for the characters came in part from the way they “come alive” in his imagination when reading the script, and in part from the different periods of his life when he felt like one character or another, but Baker says the roles were also molded by the production’s director, Don Petersen.
Petersen will be making his McLean Players directorial debut with “Man of La Mancha.” In directing the musical, Petersen oversees a 21-person cast and several crew members working backstage. With a music director, vocal director, technical director, dance choreographer and fight choreographer, Petersen has team members who help him bring the production together with insights from their areas of expertise.
While staging a play within a play could pose a challenge, Petersen said the Alden Theatre “works very nicely” for the task because of the way it is set up – the orchestra pit and the stage itself provide two separate platforms upon which Cervantes’ pre-Inquisition narrative and impromptu play can be performed.
Petersen says the production, though multi-faceted, is “a fairly easy show to stage,” which led in part to the McLean Community Players decision to stage the musical. The popularity of the show and the emotional ties the show builds with the audience, he said, were also a factor.
“People who I’ve talked to who know the show, they have some sort of attachment to it for some reason,” Petersen said. “They have very fond feelings toward it, maybe memories about a production that they’ve seen, so I think that most people just have a really good feeling about the show.”
“Man of La Mancha” will be staged Jan. 27 – Feb. 11 at the McLean Community Center’s Alden Theatre, 1234 Ingleside Ave., McLean. Performances are at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets are $18 – $20. For more information, call 703-790-9223 or visit mcleanplayers.org.