Many of you may know the classic tale of Don Quixote, a Spanish nobleman who reads too many books on chivalry and decides to become a Knight Errant, long after the days of knights has passed. He fights against injustice, and often finds himself in unpredictable predicaments, the most iconic such event being when he fights an ogre that just so happens to actually be a windmill.
With that in mind, it should come as absolutely no surprise that Man of La Mancha, a play that centers around this good-hearted and seemingly foolish knight, is at times both hysterical and poignant, a combination that is hard to achieve on a stage or in a film. Better still, Man of La Mancha takes the story a step further and delves into its source, Miguel de Cervantes, one of the greatest Spanish authors to have ever lived. Drawing parallels between his life and the life of his leading man, the play follows them both through very different, and yet at times inseparable, journeys.
From the original 1965 Broadway Play to the 1972 film, the story is one that has translated beautifully from stage to screen and back again, having made its Broadway revival back in 2002. It’s been performed thousands of times in thousands of theaters around the U.S. and I’ve seen it live at least half a dozen times in my lifetime. So when I sat down to experience The Shakespeare Theater Company’s production two weeks ago, I did not expect to leave feeling moved, transformed, made into someone new. I didn’t think I’d be walking away thinking, That was the best performance of Man of La Mancha that I have ever seen.
But I did.
Performed with grace, poise, and a whole lot of heart, this is a production that is not to be missed. It’s a production worth seeing twice (for the record, I bought a second ticket the very next day), and it’s a production that is sure to stay with you. Because this is a cast that clearly knows what they’re doing. It also happens to be one of the most diverse casts that this show has likely ever seen, and the blend of backgrounds really makes the characters stand out on that stage. It adds a three dimensionality to the show that I didn’t know was missing from other productions until I saw it staring out at me during this one.
It was with that in mind that I was able to sit down with Martín Solá to discuss his role in the show, his cast mates, and what Man of La Mancha means to him.
How did you get into acting?
When I was 9-years-old, my mother took my brother and me to audition for a small performing arts program in Philadelphia called the Girard Academic Music Program, run by Jack Carr. We were both accepted into the school, and it was a life-changing event. We began to study music theory, sing in the choir, and play instruments – I played the violin and my brother played the trumpet. We also became involved with the school musicals, Guys and Dolls, Fiddler on the Roof, and South Pacific. I didn’t know it at the time, but that training provided me with excellent tools and discipline that have served me well throughout my career.
Have you done many other musicals? Do you have a favorite?
I have performed in many musicals, both on Broadway and with regional theaters around the country. If I had to pick a favorite, I would choose Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I, because it was my first Broadway show back in 1997. I went to see the production on my birthday because I was a huge fan of Lou Diamond Phillips; and after seeing the performance I knew that I would be a good fit for the role of Lun Tha. I wrote about it in my journal, and six months later I was in the show and performing on that stage.
What drew you to Man of La Mancha?
I have always been intrigued by the story of Don Quixote, and there is sense of camaraderie with the man who is striving to attain the unattainable.
How did your audition go for the role?
I do an extensive amount of preparation before auditions in order to feel confident about my work. I think that it is important to come into the room with a clear sense of who the character is and what he wants in the scene, while remaining open and flexible in order to accommodate any adjustments that may be requested by the people who are casting the show. In the case of my audition for Man of La Mancha, the casting team and I had a similar vision for the Padre.
You’re working with a very talented cast and crew – do you mind sharing a story or two from rehearsals with us?
Yes, I adore this company, and we have a great deal of fun working together both on and off stage. We have created a family away from home, and that was most evident to me on Easter Sunday when everyone showed up on Easter Sunday for a potluck brunch. It was a fantastic morning of fellowship and delicious food!
On that same note, this is a very diverse cast as well. In your opinion, what does diversity in casting add to this production?
Yes, we have a incredibly diverse cast in our production, and it enhances the show as each actor weaves a bit of themselves (who they are and where they come from) into their respective roles. Also, it is important to reflect the demographics of the audience on the stage especially in a metropolitan city like DC; if you want to attract people of color to your theater, diversify your casting.
I was very taken with how you portrayed the Padre. Many of your predecessors have played him very straight and mournful, but your Padre has a bit of a twinkle in his eye. It’s very evident that he believes in Don Quixote, despite everything. It added a whole new dimension to To Each His Dulcinea. What made you decide to play him with such a cheerful demeanor?
I see Padre Perez as an advocate for Alonso Quijana. He wants to protect this elderly man from Dr. Carrasco, from his niece Antonia, and from the housekeeper. These other characters divulge their ulterior motives for wanting to “help” Alonzo in the musical number “I’m Only Thinking of Him”. I also believe that the Padre shares a bond with Don Quixote in that they both have devoted their lives to something that is not tangible; Quixote to Dulcinea – the Padre to his faith. The Padre believes that everyone should find the thing that helps them move forward through life, with all trials and tribulations that it presents. “To each his Dulcinea, though she’s naught but flame and air.”
Will you tell us about your process for getting into character? Do you have any rituals you like to do before a show?
I am systematic in my preparation for the show each day. I take myself through a physical warm-up, a vocal warm-up, and then I review all of the songs and scenes from the play in my mind. It takes about 90 minute or 2 hours for this process. Then, as I get into costume and makeup and enter on to the set of the show, these tangible elements help to transport me to the place and time of the story that we are telling. Then I attempt to use my senses to receive what is happening around me – i.e. listening and watching my fellow actors, as I attempt to respond truthfully to what is going on around me. It takes a great deal of concentration and it is an incredible challenge that I look forward to with each performance.
Many days, you do two performances, with just a small gap in between. How do you stay pumped up between shows?
We perform 8 shows a week and Monday is our day off, which means that there are 2 days of the week that have 2 performances. Our show is very physically demanding, and we are actually trapped on stage in a prison for most of the show, so I usually try to rest between shows, have a meal, and then do a condensed warm-up for the second show.
Man of La Mancha closes on April 26th. What’s next for you in 2015?
Good news, we are actually extended through May 3rd. And, I am thrilled to announce that my next engagement is the Broadway-bound On Your Feet! featuring the music of Emilio and Gloria Estefan. I will join the company of On Your Feet! the day after “La Mancha” closes, and then we will head to Chicago for the summer, and Broadway in the fall. I am so excited to join the amazingly talented artistic team and cast!
That is all great news! Last, just for fun – what’s your dream role, and why?
There are a number of dream roles on my list, but one that comes to mind is Che in “Evita”, which I had the opportunity to play in 2008, at Theater by the Sea in R.I. It is an incredibly demanding role that stretched me to my extremes as both an actor and a singer. I learned a great deal about myself from walking in that character’s shoes and attempting to tell his story.
There you have it folks. If you live in or around the Washington D.C. area, stop what you’re doing and buy tickets to this fantastic limited-engagement show. It’s a decision that will change your life, and unlike Don Quioxte’s dream, getting tickets is not an impossible dream to dream.