Castanets, Cervantes at Chippewa Middle School


The cast of “Man of La Mancha” is currently in its sixth week of rehearsals, preparing for the musical’s opening night on July 19 at Chippewa Middle School in North Oaks. (courtesy of Mounds View Community Theatre)

Billy Krager sings a preview of “Man of La Mancha” for an audience at the Blaine Festival, with vocal director Blake Brauer and co-lead Bradley Johnson to the right. (Bridget Kranz photos)

A cast of characters, including Don Quixote’s worried niece, a priest and the knight’s housekeeper, sing, “I’m Only Thinking of Him,” during a preview at the Blaine Festival.

Mounds View Community Theatre to perform ‘Man of La Mancha’ 

 

Summer is a great time for tilting at windmills, according to Mounds View Community Theatre. MVCT will be presenting “Man of La Mancha,” a musical based on the novel “Don Quixote,” later this month at Chippewa Middle School in North Oaks.

The tale is a classic one of romance, adventure, loyalty and the title character’s famous delusions of grandeur. The latter of which cause protagonist Don Quixote to attempt to joust with windmills, thinking they are giants.

“I’m a knight errant setting forth to right all wrongs,” explains Billy Krager, who plays Don Quixote. Krager and his cast mates auditioned back in April and are in roughly their sixth week of rehearsals for the musical, which is set to open on July 19. 

“Man of La Mancha,” originally written in 1965, will be MVCT’s 36th production. The group has been doing one musical every summer since its founding in 1983. 

 

Play within a play

In the show, the knight’s anomalies are handled with both humor and empathy, according to Bradley Johnson, who plays Don Quixote’s squire, Sancho Panza.  

“[Sancho] has a very realistic approach but at the same time he follows Don Quixote loyally,” says Johnson. “He doesn’t necessarily have an explanation for it other than that he finds Don Quixote very charismatic.”

In addition to playing Sancho, Johnson plays servant to Miguel de Cervantes, the real-life 17th century novelist who wrote “Don Quixote.” Cervantes is used as a framing device in the musical.

In the opening act, the audience finds him awaiting trial in a jail cell. While captive, he performs a play loosely based on his novel for cellmates, who are cast into roles that accentuate their personalities.  

“It’s two stories happening simultaneously that are both very similar,” says Johnson. “A lot of the characters play two different people in the real world and in the world of this play, but they’re obviously paralleled ... Cervantes is a dreamer, and in the play he’s a knight that goes on quests.”

In the play-within-a-play, Don Quixote and Sancho go on adventures, encounter evil, find love and sing along to a score of trilling Spanish guitar. While the knight’s wildly optimistic, sometimes unrealistic, outlook draws consternation from many characters, it also has the power to transform those close to him into better versions of themselves.

Sancho is drawn to him and, for better or worse, so is the entire cast of the roughly 25-person show.

 

Over 30 years of musicals 

MVCT has performed one musical every summer since it’s inception in 1983, having grown out of a summer program for youth dating back to the 1960s. Diane Wuori, the theater’s operations manager, has been around for 32 of those 36 years. She says the big ensembles and the talent of the directors have kept both local actors and audiences coming back.

This year’s director, Joe Chvala — who also leads the “Flying Foot Forum” dance group — and vocal director Blake Brauer have both worked with MVCT in the past. 

“The only people we pay are the artistic directors,” says Wuori, of the almost all-volunteer organization. “We want to bring in good talent for that, because that talent is what brings people in for auditions.”

Chvala’s previous work with the University of Minnesota is what got both Krager and Johnson interested in the production; both either knew of him or worked with him in his time at the school. 

In addition to a large ensemble, each production has a live pit orchestra made up of local musicians. According to Brauer, this is also a huge draw for audiences year-to-year.  

“This show in particular has some really, really awesome music,” he notes. “It’s Spanish style, things that you will not find in contemporary music today.”

 

Summer show times 

On July 18 at 7:30 p.m., the cast will be doing a free, sensory-friendly preview of the musical, in partnership with the Ramsey County Library and the Autism Society. MVCT will adjust light and sound levels and provide choose-your-own seating, noise-reducing headphones and a quiet room with alternate activities. 

This preview is meant for those with autism, memory loss or other disabilities to enjoy the play in an accommodating, welcoming atmosphere. 

Performances of “Man of La Mancha” will be taking place from July 19 through Aug. 4. The show will run at 7:30 p.m. on July 19, 20, 24, 25, 26 and 31, as well as Aug. 1, 2 and 3. Performances will start at 2 p.m. on July 21, 27 and Aug. 4. The last performance on Aug. 4 will have an American Sign Language translator present. 

All shows are being performed at Chippewa Middle School, 5000 Hodgson Road in North Oaks. Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for seniors and all students, and $8 for children 6 years old and under. The box office will open one hour before each show and tickets are also available ahead of time at www.mvct.org.

 

–Bridget Kranz can be reached at bkranz@lillienews.com or 651-748-7825.

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