Sunday, May 9, 2021

Carver tells of (Don Quixote’s) impossible dreams


The Broadway musical Man of La Mancha, with its most famous number, “The Impossible Dream,” opened this evening at the George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology in Towson, Maryland, and continues through Sunday, November 13.

A sculpture near the entrance to Carver’s theater (Voxitatis)

The performance of that number, once in the original and then again in the reprise, both by Daniel Brown, makes the entire price of admission, $15, worth every penny. Like many of the numbers, it isn’t really acted out but performed, and the sound system adds a rather tinny quality to the music and dialog. Both of those deficiencies, seen in high school productions from coast to coast, can easily be forgiven for this number, given the huge and nimble baritone voice Mr Brown brings to the stage.

“This is my quest: to follow that star,” he declares in song. “No matter how hopeless, no matter how far, to fight for the right, without question or pause, to be willing to march into hell for a heavenly cause. …”

“Knowing that we’d be opening two days after one of the strangest elections in our nation’s history weighed heavily on the decision of what [musical] to choose,” said Paul Diem, the musical’s director at this school, which is one of 329 schools in the country to be awarded the National Blue Ribbon from the US Department of Education this fall. “I decided that in these times, I wanted to present a voice of hope.”

Cervantes—or really, his hero, Don Quixote—is a 16th-century poet, soldier, and actor, though he wasn’t very successful in any of those roles. He’s imprisoned by the Spanish Inquisition in a dungeon, and much of the one-act play takes place is his daydream. He chases after windmills but treats everyone, including barmaid Aldonza (mezzo Ava Weintzweig), who was left for dead by her mother at birth, with chivalrous courtesy and respect, despite her pleadings that she hasn’t done anything to merit that respect.

Ms Weintzweig injects a single-minded, strong will into her character at first, mostly through an agile voice, which makes it even more moving when she brings that same determination to her change of heart over Don Quixote. And hers was, actually, the only true acting you might see here, given that every other character except the Barber (Rachel McNear) has a tendency to play directly to the audience, much like a vocal or instrumental soloist would do on stage, instead of communicating with other characters in the play.

Just about all of that communication came to our ears through speakers on the ceiling. It was often difficult to follow the action, not because of poor diction but because the voices weren’t coming from the stage. Especially when actors were turned away and the audience couldn’t see mouths moving, it was hard to figure out who was doing the talking.

But the singing rocked. Will Foohey brings a smooth tenor voice to the stage at this Baltimore County magnet school as the Padre, and Mark Quackenbush acts as Don Quixote’s sidekick and delivers an energetic performance that was a pleasure to watch and hear.

Working without artificial amplification was the 11-musician pit orchestra. The overture and many of the numbers feature some of the most dreamily haunting clarinet lines on Broadway, performed here by Jennifer Hughson, and regal trumpet fanfares (Justin Nurin and Klaus Dieter Schreiber). That, along with a 40-member crew, brought the dungeon and stairs on which inquisitors descend to life. It’s only a dream, we know, but it delivers a message of great hope. The timing couldn’t have been better.

“No matter what the world throws at you, if you fight for the right, you can be legendary,” Mr Diem wrote, as part of the playbill.

Book by Dale Wasserman, lyrics by Joe Darion, and music by Mitch Leigh. In performance at George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology in Towson, Maryland, Thursday through Sunday, November 10–13. Rated PG-13 for some suggestive material.

Musical productions in high schools often include the hard work of hundreds of students, teachers, and other community members. We write about them in support of new federal legislation in the Every Student Succeeds Act, which directs schools to include music and the arts as part of a “well-rounded education” for students in the US. Even before ESSA, though, Illinois Learning Standards in the fine arts have supported the production of musicals in our schools, including 25.B.5 [Understand how different art forms combine to create an interdisciplinary work (e.g., musical theatre, opera or cinematography)] and 26.B.5 [Create and perform a complex work of art using a variety of techniques, technologies and resources and independent decision making], among others.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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