Regional Reviews: Raleigh/Durham
Interview with Director Ray Kennedy
Man of La Mancha opens this weekend at Thalian Hall in Wilmington, North Carolina, presented by Opera House Theatre Company under the direction of Ray Kennedy. The musical based on Miguel de Cervantes' novel, "Don Quixote," is about the misadventures of the title character who, rather than facing the harsh reality of everyday life, chooses to view the world through rose-tinted glass. He is seen as mad as he takes on the made-up misadventures of a knight errant. The book is by Dale Wasserman, with music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion. The original 1965 production went on to win several Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Actor, and Best Score. I recently asked the production's director Ray Kennedy to share his thoughts, including why he chose to direct.
Garrett Southerland: Man of La Mancha has a long and rich history; what has it meant to you, both in the past and now?
Ray RK: It has a unique history with Opera House Theatre Company. Our founder, Lou Criscuolo, made his Broadway debut in the show in the 1960s. He played multiple roles including Don Quixote's sidekick Sancho. It was his favorite musical. He directed it twice over the years for OHTC. I chose it because I love the music, the story and I wanted to direct Fracaswell Hyman as Cervantes/Don Quixote.
GS: There are two stories going on simultaneously within the musical; what is the connection between the two?
RK: The structure of the show is very interesting, a play within a play. Miguel de Cervantes tells the story of Don Quixote becoming the famous knight errant. Mr. Hyman, who plays both roles, describes it as a journey, illusion to reality, back to illusion and then death.
GS: Wilmington has a wonderful mix of talented, tried and true actors, as well as people who walk through the door that could be cast in Opera House productions. You have mentioned Fracaswell Hyman, who plays the dual parts of Cervantes and Don Quixote. Tell us more about the actors you've chosen to interpret this musical.
RK: Our cast is amazing. Their backgrounds and stories have amazed me. We have a very diverse cast made up of Ukrainian, Chinese, Irish, El Salvadorian, Columbian, Mexican, Russian and more. Coleman Cox is our Aldonza. They have a BFA in theatre from East Carolina University and was recently nominated for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical for Sunset Boulevard at Wilmington Star News Theatre Awards. Sancho is portrayed by Brian Whitted, who was recently seen as the Teen Angel in Opera House's Grease.
GS: Do you have a favorite scene or number in this production? What makes it special for you?
RK: I particularly like the numbers "Dulcinea" sung by Don Quixote and "What Does He Want of Me?" sung by Aldonza. Both have beautiful melodies and great lyrics. And, of course, "The Impossible Dream," one of the world's most famous songs.
GS: Great theatre entertains the audience and gives us something to think about; is there something new for a seasoned musical theater fan to find in Man of La Mancha?
RK: Since the play within the play takes place during the 1600s, there is no change to the text or music, so La Mancha purists will be very happy. The play takes place in a modern Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility on the U.S.-Mexico border. Unfortunately, I know way too much about ICE. My late partner, Victor, was mistakenly detained. Thus began one of the worst weeks of my life. One phone call from him and it was a week of countless trips to Newark, asking questions, pleading, and finally, an "angel" in the ICE office helped me navigate the labyrinth of paperwork. Then, after $10,000 in bail (they accepted only cash) and seven days in a detainment waiting room, he was finally freed. It was awful and I thank God for that "angel."
We all have work to fix a broken system. These are human beings with big dreams, following their own quest that for some is "impossible." What is one of the beauties of this musical is the score, which supports the 17th century but the 21st as well. The story of Man of La Mancha is all about the "quest" and Don Quixote's search for goodness in the world. It is a very timely message for today.
Man of La Mancha runs through August 27, 2023, at The Opera House Theatre Company, Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts, 310 Chestnut St., Wilmington NC. For tickets and information, please visit www.thalianhall.org or call 800-523-2820 or 910-632-2285.