By Sam Desmond – Suffolk County News
The 1997 Cast of Man of La Mancha
With windmill chases and epic romance, “Man of La Mancha” is the ultimate in escapist high literature.
For a special two-night performance only, the CM Performing Arts Theater in Oakdale will be producing the show on Saturday, Feb. 12 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 13 at 2 p.m.
“Man of La Mancha” was selected to kick off the celebration of the theater’s 35th anniversary (it opened on Feb. 15, 1987).
Leading the production, which is a testament and genuflection to Noel S. Ruiz, the founder of the theater, is director Matt Surico.
Surico is a longtime favorite and go-to head of production for the theater, having served as musical director for “Cinderella” in the past.
The decadent music and storytelling of “Man of La Mancha,” a sprawling fantasy from Miguel de Cervantes, is perfect for the Valentine’s Day dinner date, as it touches upon a whole scale of heightened emotions and guaranteed to bring movement to the conversation afterwards.
Surico and cast, about halfway through rehearsals now, have been determined to bring the production to patrons in the vision of Ruiz, along with his own touches.
“Noel’s style was very much in line with the original material of Don Quixote,” said Surico, “and we want to celebrate that unique approach to honor him.”
Cast members were well-acquainted with the play, half of them having been in previous productions of “Man of La Mancha.”
Ruiz’s version was the opening show of the building in 1997, and Surico said, “It really showed how much he loved the material.”
Surico has staged the 2022 production similarly, taking note of the videotaped performance.
It was important to Surico that the themes of the play remain clear through effective staging.
“Don Quixote sees the good in everyone,” said Surico, “and that was very much how Noel approached life and why this character spoke to him so much.”
This also speaks to the larger message of the theater that brings “all walks of life together,” according to Surico, and that the ongoing productions are a testament to that idea of inclusivity and celebration of diversity.
But that’s not to say that the production doesn’t also delve into the imprisonment of Don Quixote by his own mind and machinations, which Surico has also deeply incorporated into his direction of the production.
“I think it’s quite a timely tale for all of us, especially in 2022, coming out of isolation,” said Surico.
Regular theatergoers will be delighted to see familiar faces of the Long Island stage, including John Rivera (Don Quixote), Brianne Boyd (Aldonza) and Andrew J. Beck (Sancho Panza).
“They are phenomenal. You really have nuanced performances that carry the entire emotional journey with scenes that are so layered,” Surico said of his cast.
A challenge of “Man of La Mancha” is the rich source material of Cervantes, which can weigh too heavily on audiences if its spirit is not captured in a performance.
“Our actors are incredibly smart and they navigate through the nuance beautifully,” he added.
Thankfully, much of the set design was actually still kept in storage from the original 1997 performance and translated well into Surico’s vision.