A Possible Dream: Actors, singers undertake quixotic quest

A Possible Dream: Actors, singers undertake quixotic quest

It might have seemed he was tilting at windmills. But Michael Riha never gave up.

“I have been in conversation with the [chairwoman of the music department] Ronda Mains, for years, trying to figure out a way that our programs can unite to offer a jointly produced musical and/or opera,” says Riha, chairman of the University of Arkansas theater department.

“But discussions often got tabled for various reasons: departmental budgets, the fact that music students and theater students often have different obligations and conflicts with rehearsal hours that are sometimes difficult to reconcile, division of labor and resources, dates available in the production calendar, etc.,” Kate Frank, theater instructor at the UA, picks up the story. “This time, however, when Opera Theatre director David Malis proposed a production of ‘Man of La Mancha,’ the theater department [decided to] jump in and give it our best.”

The tale, of course, revolves around “everyone’s favorite knight errant,” Don Quixote, and debuted on Broadway in 1965. Based on a 17th century story by Miguel de Cervantes, it is a play within a play as the jailed Cervantes uses his storytelling skills to protect himself in prison and to share his vision of life as it should be. As one critic wrote of a production earlier this year, “the themes of committing to impossible dreams, fighting unbeatable foes, and living a life of passionate idealism, where madness lies in seeing life as it is and not as it should be, remain intact.”

“I have sung Don Quixote/Cervantes with two professional opera companies recently, so I had firsthand knowledge of ‘Man of La Mancha’s’ popularity with audiences,” Malis says. “This also just happened to be the year that I had recruited a wonderful young bass-baritone, John Lackey, who will be our Don Quixote. The theater department has a wealth of talented singing actors, and music/opera has a number of strong singers who need stage experience and who would benefit from the stage skills and expertise of Kate Frank (director) and Jason Burrow (musical director).”

The result, a very late addition to the tightly scheduled University Theatre calendar, runs April 5-8. It took some doing to make it happen.

“It wasn’t originally a part of our theater season, which is determined up to one year in advance,” Frank says. “We had to find a slot which would work. Basically, our design and prep time was a fraction of what we normally have, and our rehearsal period shorter.

“Some creative solutions in reaction to this truncated prep time are that certain elements of the previous set (‘Life Is a Dream’) are re-purposed and used in our set, and costumes will be mostly rented instead of built. The entire production team has really come together to create a beautiful show for our patrons, and an amazing learning experience for our students.

“The show speaks to us today because it is about a timeless quest: To live one’s life in such a way that we leave the world a better place than the one we were born into. ‘To live with our hearts striving upward,’” Frank explains. “The times we are living in require us to show courage, imagination and hope for building a better world. Don Quixote, the mad knight, Is a symbolic figure who never gives up the fight for his vision of truth and the uplifting of humankind. He never doubts his vision, never accepts defeat even in the face of repeated failed attempts.

“We all touch our own inner mad knight whenever we stand up against what we know in our hearts to be wrong,” Frank concludes. “This will always be relevant.”



‘Man of La Mancha’

WHEN — 7:30 p.m. April 5-7; 2 p.m. April 8

WHERE — University Theatre in the Fine Arts Center on the UA campus in Fayetteville

COST — $5-$10

INFO — 575-4752

Categories: Entertainment, Theater