Man of La Mancha is one of the most beloved and inspiring plays—at least in the humble opinion of actor Philip Hernandez, who plays the lead in Arizona Theatre Company’s January production of the play.
“It’s stunningly beautiful,” he says. “It speaks to the way that I personally view the world, and it speaks to our time in a way that I think few other musicals do. It’s a piece that people need to see at this particular point in history because it has something very powerful and simple and beautiful to say.”
This is Hernandez’s third time playing the dual roles of Don Quixote (the “mad,” self-proclaimed knight), and Miguel de Cervantes (his creator). However, he says this newly reimagined version of the play—brought to life by Artistic Director David Ivers and Managing Director Billy Russ—is unlike the previous productions.
“In many ways it’s completely different,” Hernandez explains. “The performers—the actors on the stage, are also the musicians, so it’s not like there’s a separate orchestra pit. They provide all the music and play multiple instruments. Also, the whole texture of the music is different because it’s scored for a smaller ensemble.”
Another thing that makes this production especially vibrant is the flamenco influence.
“We have some amazingly talented flamenco guitarists and dancers who bring a whole other flavor to this piece,” Hernandez says. “It’s exciting and visceral, and it’s different from any other La Mancha that you’ve seen.”
Man of La Mancha, based on Miguel de Cervantes’ epic tome, Don Quixote de La Mancha, is a play within a play, portraying the imprisoned Cervantes telling the story of Don Quixote to his fellow inmates while awaiting trial for the Spanish Inquisition. In the 50 years of its run, on and off Broadway, it has been nominated for five Tony Awards.
One of the plays’ highlights is the iconic, stirring song “The Impossible Dream,” something Hernandez feels privileged to perform nightly.
“I think a lot of people have baggage with this song because it’s been performed so many times, and it’s just ‘that song,’” he says.
“So, the opportunity to hear it in context, in this particular piece is great. And what I strive to do in the performance of it is to really let people hear the words, because it comes out of one of the most beautiful scenes in musical theater.”
Hernandez’s love, and almost reverence, for this musical is nearly palpable. He truly believes that this show, as well as the text it’s based upon, can change people for the better.
“When people leave the performance, I want them to see the world in a different way,” he says, “I want them to realize that they’re part of something. There’s more than one way to look at anything, and one way is not less valid than another—it’s just a choice. So, we have options, and we’re all part of a human family, and if they take that away from this piece, then in a small way we’ve changed the world.”
Man of La Mancha, Herberger Theater Center, 222 E. Monroe Street, Phoenix, 602.254.7399, arizonatheatre.org, various times, Friday, January 5, to Sunday, January 28, $25-$80.