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Man of La Mancha

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The Writing of Man of La Mancha

Commentary and writing tips by Noel Katz

One of the first musicals to move from humble off-Broadway origins to long-running success on Broadway was Man of La Mancha, based on the Spanish classic, Don Quixote. Librettist Dale Wasserman had previously adapted the book into a television drama, and it was there he hit upon the idea of making Don Quixote a story within the story of its author, Cervantes, who was arrested during the Inquisition. He receives a mock trial from his fellow convicts in an underground dungeon, who threaten to burn the novel that has been his life's work.

In the 16th century, Cervantes was writing about a somewhat insane character who refuses to live in the present. He's heard too many stories about the knights of old and aspires to be one, ignoring the reality that the Age of Chivalry is long dead. Audiences in the turbulent 1960s may have sympathized with that sort of nostalgia. The manners and decorum they recalled from childhood seemed to be lacking in the Jet Age. In Man of La Mancha, there's a parallel between Cervantes and Don Quixote in that they're both romantics in a time and place that is hostile to such idealists. Wasserman has made a centuries-old set of comic set pieces into something taut and compelling by reminding us of the very real risks of death, loss and torture that Cervantes faces.

Like The Fantasticks, Man of La Mancha turns its small theatre limitations into a virtue. Cervantes is led down a gangway into a very real prison, and proceeds to spin his tale of the Knight of the Woeful Countenance using nothing but the people and things in the cell. Hardened-heart inmates are coaxed into playing horses, clergymen, and instruments of The Law. And so we enjoy the way all the characters use their imaginations to evoke Quixote's world. Eventually, everyone gets caught up in the idealism of the show's hit song, The Impossible Dream.

Mitch Leigh's score is a litany of Spanish rhythms, but one simple little tune stands out. When we first hear Little Bird Little Bird, it's a gentle folk song, almost a lullaby. Later, when a gang of violent muleteers corner the heroine to rape her, the tune is sung again in an ugly dissonant mode. The horror we feel at watching Aldonza tossed around on stage is matched by the "rape" that's been done to the simple little tune. It's a very effective moment: a jolt to our ears that goes straight to the heart.

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About Man of La Mancha

The Impossible Musical: The "Man of la Mancha" Story from Amazon.com An engaging history of the trials, tribulations and rewards behind Man of La Mancha.


Man of La Mancha DVDMan of La Mancha (DVD) from Amazon.com 1973 film version starring Peter O'Toole and Sophia Loren. Special features include a photo montage in the overture music.

Cast Recordings

Man of La Mancha Original CastMan of La Mancha (Original 1965 Broadway Cast) from Amazon.com Starring Richard Kiley. Remastered version of the original cast recording. Songs include: Overture, Man Of La Mancha (I, Don Quixote), It's All The Same, Dulcinea, I'm Only Thinking Of Him, I Really Like Him, What Do You Want of Me, Little Bird, Little Bird, Barber's Song/Golden Helmet, To Each His Dulcinea (To Every Man His Dulcinea), The Impossible Dream, The Combat (Previously Unreleased Reissue Track), Dubbing (Knight of the Woeful Countenance), The Abduction, Aldonza, A Little Gossip, Dulcinea (Reprise) /The Impossible Dream (Reprise) /Man of Mancha, and Finale (The Impossible Dream)

Man of La Mancha Revival CastMan of La Mancha (2002 Broadway Revival Cast) from Amazon.com Starring Brian Stokes Mitchell and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. Songs include: Opening, Man of La Mancha (I, Don Quixote), It's All the Same, Dulcinea, I'm Only Thinking of Him, We're Only Thinking of Him, I Really Like Him, What Does He Want of Me?, Little Bird, Little Bird, Barber's Song, Golden Helmet of Mambrino, To Each His Dulcinea (To Every Man His Dream), The Impossible Dream (The Quest), Knight of the Woeful Countenance, Aldonza, The Knight of the Mirrors, A Little Gossip, Final Sequence, and Finale

Sheet Music and Reference Materials

Man of La Mancha vocal scoreMan of La Mancha Vocal Score from Amazon.com

Man of La Mancha ScriptMan of La Mancha Script from Amazon.com Dale Wasserman's complete script for the Broadway musical.

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