- - Sunday, March 22, 2015

Miguel de Cervantes of Spain and William Shakespeare of England, the most famous writers of their day, produced literary masterpieces that survived the ages.

Although they lived at the same time and died within days of each other, they may not have been aware of one another. But now they are symbolically united by the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of the award-winning musical, “Man of La Mancha,” inspired by Cervantes’s “Don Quixote.”

Alan Paul, director of the production, is excited about the company’s epic staging of the classic play within a play, whose opening lines pave the way for one to travel vicariously to an unknown place where an errant knight awaits to tell his tale.

“The stage setting is an enormous prison cell where the prisoners remain throughout the show,” Mr. Paul told The Washington Times. “The sense of claustrophobia precipitates arguments and physical brawls. The actors have worked to give a feel of what it was like during the Spanish Inquisition, and I made certain that all the elements within the prison are evident, like the pipes, discarded wood and chairs. “

“Man of La Mancha” was termed a musical play when it opened on Broadway because it crossed theatrical boundaries. Mr. Paul likens the feel of the show to a great Shakespearean play with songs. The winner of the 2014 Helen Hayes Award for best resident director of a Musical for STC’s “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” Mr. Paul derives his greatest joy from entertaining.

The remarkable cast is headed by Australian musical star Anthony Warlow.

Anthony is phenomenal in this role,” Mr. Paul said. “His acting skills and his thrilling voice singing three iconic songs are incredible.”

Mr. Warlow is equally impressed by STC, so much so that he eagerly traveled from Down Under to work with them.

“I’ve been blessed and can happily say that I’ve done nothing else during my career except explore avenues of theatrical desire in different roles that I love,” he told The Times. “‘Man of La Mancha’ is the King Lear of theater. Playing three characters and reaping the joy of an iconic role cannot be surpassed. This is an incredibly complex work, but everything comes from a place of truth.

STC is a wonderful company,” he said. “During rehearsals we took a beautiful piece of antiquity and nitpicked the characters to get them exactly right. As we put the puzzle together, layer upon layer, it became more concrete. Cervantes wrote about the Inquisition, which was no different to him than the communist world is today. He was taken prisoner on a pirate ship several times and was a slave, but he had the spirit to defy the odds.”

Mr. Warlow understands the strength of spirit Cervantes summoned to withstand the forces that could have broken him, having previously portrayed the title role in “The Phantom of the Opera” in the original Australian production, toured and recorded “Les Miserables” and was preparing to appear as Pontius Pilate in “Jesus Christ Superstar” when he learned that he had non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

“I was only 30 years old and at the peak of my career,” Mr. Warlow said. “But, like Cervantes, I had a dream and was determined that cancer was not a sentence. Because I was certain it was not my time. I kept a positive attitude throughout my treatment and pulled on some of the character roles I had played to keep up my spirits. It was cathartic and I am a survivor. Sometimes we have to go through adversity to find happiness.”

Mr. Warlow can also be heard on more than a dozen albums, including “Annie,” “The Secret Garden,” “Jekyll and Hyde,” “Les Miserables” and “Highlights from the Main Event” with John Farnham and Olivia Newton-John.

“Remember that I’m playing an old man, a character in ‘Man of La Mancha,’” he said. “What you will hear is Don Quixote, not Anthony Warlow. But I can assure you that, in the end, the ‘money notes’ will be splendiferous.”


WHAT: Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of “Man of La Mancha”

WHERE: Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F Street NW

WHEN: March 17-April 26. Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday, 7:30 p.m.; Thursday and Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday 2 p.m. 8 p.m.

INFO: Tickets $20-$110 by calling 202/547-1122 or visiting ShakespeareTheatre.org.

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