Northwestern’s latest theatrical production, “Man of La Mancha,” will take the stage at 7:30 p.m. on Friday.
Directed by NW theater professor Jeff Barker, “Man of La Mancha” is a whimsical musical tale of Cervantes, a prisoner of the Spanish Inquisition.
While locked in a dungeon with a slew of other prisoners, Cervantes is put on mock trial. If found guilty, he will have to give up all of his possessions.
As his defense, Cervantes recruits the prisoners to help him perform a play that tells the story of Don Quixote, a curious knight who has given up sanity for a life full of imagination, idealism and adventure.
Jackson Nickolay plays the part of Cervantes/Don Quixote.
“He’s sort of the orchestrator of the whole story,” Nickolay said. “He puts on this fake bravado (as Don Quixote), but he really believes the ideas behind it honestly.”
To mirror Cervantes’ experience in the dungeon and the imaginative adventure he takes the prisoners on, the show’s designers have worked to make the show a combination of the realistic and stylized.
Designer Jonathan Sabo and his team accomplished this aesthetic by installing a “kabuki,” a motorized machine from which strips of fabric hang and can be raised and lowered. The imaginative world in Quixote’s mind is then projected onto this fabric.
Preparing for this musical presented the theater department with some unusual challenges beyond the setup and preparation.
However, it also provided actors with an opportunity to add a vocal performance aspect to their acting regimen.
“Your singing voice is a more intimate part of you because we don’t share it as often,” said Rachel Hanson, who plays a prisoner and Aldonza, one of the characters in Cervantes’ play. “People have more opinions about if it’s good or not, and you have to learn how to keep your voice healthy without compensating acting choices. Aldonza’s voice is pretty rough, so I had to learn how to do that without hurting my voice.”
The theater department has teamed up with NW’s music program to provide live music to accompany the actors.
Tim McGarvey, a member of the music faculty, invited several students to participate in the pit orchestra. The musicians and actors only had a few rehearsals together, but members of both departments agree that things have gone smoothly.
“It’s all about timing,” McGarvey said. “What we’re doing has to relate to what’s going on onstage. It’s a give-and-take.”
The actors also met with Cindy Moeller, a part-time vocal professor in the music department, on an individual basis for training.
“Learning how to deliver a song is very different from delivering lines,” Nickolay said. “In speaking, you land on consonants; sinwwwging is about vowels.”
In both the spoken and sung passages of the musical, the language is antiquated but entirely understandable. The storyline is known for having a strong emotional impact on audiences.
“It’s about redemption and seeing forgiveness as Jesus sees forgiveness,” McGarvey said. “(Quixote) views everyone as completely washed clean.”
Hanson expressed similar thoughts about the spiritual themes of the play.
“It’s a good example of seeing the kingdom of God at hand, rather than that now everything’s bad and we need to wait,” she said. “We have to usher it in now. And it’s about seeing value in people.”
The show will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 14 and 15 and 20-22. There will also be an afternoon performance at 2 p.m. on the 22nd. All performances will take place in the Theora England Wilcox Proscenium Theatre. Reservations are required; NW students, faculty and staff members can reserve their tickets by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.