New York City
New Line Theatre opens its fourteenth season of provocative, adult, issue-oriented musical theatre, with Man of La Mancha. This daring, darkly romantic chamber musical, has always been most powerful during times of political and social upheaval, and America in 2004 is no different. The novel was written during the height of the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition and the musical was written in the middle of the turbulent 1960s. Its issues have never been more white-hot than they are right now.
Though the show has been watered down by the mainstream over the years, New Line Theatre now reclaims La Mancha’s experimental roots and turns it back into the show it was originally meant to be. Written in the middle of the 1960s (one year before Hair), it explores the price paid for the losses of Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion, two fundamental rights that are being threatened every day in modern America. It’s about the dangers of mixing religion and government, about the destructive power of religious and moral absolutism, about throwing people in jail for dissent, about violence against women, and it’s about people standing up for themselves and refusing to be silenced — all issues we face everyday in America and elsewhere. It’s hard to imagine a show that is more potent right now, at this moment in America’s history, especially with a presidential election coming up.
With a script by Dale Wasserman, Man of La Mancha uses the classic novel Don Quixote as a jumping off place, as it tells the story of Quixote’s author, Miguel de Cervantes and his courage in standing up to the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition. As Cervantes sits in prison waiting to be called before the Inquisition, he tells the other prisoners the tale of his mad nonconformist knight Don Quixote, fighting against the “moral” majority for justice, purity, freedom, and above all, love. All these years later, it’s still powerhouse theatre, with a rich, Spanish-flavored score by Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion. Man of La Mancha argues, quite persuasively, that theatre and storytelling aren’t just important, they are a matter of life and death.