Leading the dozen shows opening on high-school stages this week is a high-school rarity: “Man of La Mancha” at Pleasantville.
The musical story of Don Quixote employs the booming bass of junior James McCarthy, whose portrayal of Emile de Becque in last year’s “South Pacific” was honored with a Metro Award for outstanding leading actor.
McCarthy said he spent last summer like most musical theater kids do: Having fun, but wondering what musical his director, Kathleen Donovan Warren, would choose for this year. How do you follow “South Pacific”?
“My friends and I were guessing, over the summer, what the show would be,” McCarthy said. “I was hoping ‘Carousel’ or ‘Man of La Mancha.’
“Carousel” would have meant one role for McCarthy; “La Mancha” means three.
He plays the imprisoned Miguel de Cervantes, who plays Alonso Quijana, who believes himself to be the knight errant Don Quixote, the famous windmill tilter.
“You have to go from one to the other: Cervantes is analytical and poetic; Quijana is weaker and feeble; Don Quixote is this noble knight, a chivalrous person who doesn’t stop for how the world is.”
“La Mancha” sounds like a carousel of roles, after all.
Quixote is a man who’s losing his mind, McCarthy said, as “reality is starting to set in around him, to force its way in on him.”
Last year, as a sophomore, McCarthy played a French plantation owner in the South Pacific who was powerless in the face of the prejudice ingrained in the woman he loved. This year, Quixote keeps moving.
“It’s so beautiful how Quixote is about ‘the impossible dream,’ how you should never stop to reach a goal, to reach the place you want to be,” said McCarthy.
He is fully aware that people may arrive at Pleasantville’s auditorium knowing every word of the musical’s most famous song, with its lyric:
“This is my quest, to follow that star
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.”
He doesn’t think about trying to fill the shoes of Richard Kiley, the original Quixote.
“You really don’t think about it when you’re thinking of the song, that you have to impress anyone or make it your own,” he said. “You just kind of listen to the music, think of what the music is saying, listen to the words. What does he say? ‘And the world will be better for this, that one man scorned and covered with scars. Still strove with his last ounce of courage. To reach the unreachable star.’ I mean, that’s just … You really don’t have to think about anything other than that. It’s beautiful.”
In fact, if there’s one moment he can’t wait to get to, in a role full of force and power and booming notes, he said it’s a pause he can’t wait to get to.
“It’s in that one part, that pause between ‘to reach’ and ‘the unreachable star.’ It’s that silence that I love so much.”
“Man of La Mancha,” at 8 p.m., March 6, 7, 13, 14; 2 p.m., March 8. $15, $12 students. showtix4u.com.
Here’s the Running Lines video I shot at Pleasantville. Enjoy!