Evanston’s Light Opera stages ‘Man of La Mancha’
James Harms as Don Quixote in “Man of La Mancha.”
‘Man of La Mancha’
Light Opera Works, Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson St., Evanston
8 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, Aug. 11-26; plus 2 p.m. Wednesdays, Aug. 15 and 22, and
8 p.m. Friday,
(847) 920-5360 or visit www.lightoperaworks.com
Updated: August 24, 2012 3:27PM
James Harms has spent a lot of time tilting at windmills the last three years. It comes with the territory when you play Don Quixote in “Man of La Mancha.”
Harms has starred as the gallant, albeit delusional, knight in productions with Chamber Opera Chicago and Theatre at the Center in Munster, Ind., and in a concert version with Symphony Silicon Valley of San Jose, Calif. Starting Saturday, Aug. 11, he takes the role in a Light Opera Works production, directed and choreographed by Rudy Hogenmiller.
“I think this role in the musical theater is one of those top roles like the king in ‘The King and I’ or Henry Higgins in ‘My Fair Lady.’ It’s right up there in richness and a wonderful thing to play for an actor because [Don Quixote] has both these crazy, comical aspects as well as the tragical aspects,” Harms said. “It’s quite a journey you get to take with the character every performance. And it’s one of the greatest scores. To be able to live in that world for a couple of hours is really invigorating.”
This performance will be different from Harms’ other turns as Don Quixote. “As I live with it over time, I see new things that I can bring out,” he explained.
Actors actually play two roles in the show — imprisoned novelist and poet Miguel de Cervantes and Don Quixote, the hero of Cervantes’ great novel, whose tale the author spins to entertain his fellow prisoners.
“Both of them are fascinating characters,” said Harms, who has obviously done extensive research for the role. “Cervantes was nearly 60 when he found the success of this novel. He had been a playwright and a poet, an adventurer and a soldier, but he had never made very much money. He had tried to escape from this five years of enslavement four times, sometimes with disastrous results for the people who tried to help him.
“In ‘Don Quixote,’ he’s transforming the pain of his life into this delightful, satirical look at mankind and its foibles,” Harms surmised. “Not just being critical of mankind but showing the hope that there is, even if it’s through a slightly mad man who wants to see the best in things and has dreams of a better world.”
“I love the show,” declared director Hogenmiller, who staged the Chamber Opera Chicago production in which Harms starred. “I knew that Jim wanted to do it again.”
The show has a bit of sentimental value for the director. “It was the first show that I did with Light Opera Works,” he said. Hogenmiller choreographed the company’s last production of the show in 1995.
The director feels that Harms is especially right for the lead because, “I’ve always felt it really takes an actor who sings to play the part. Somebody who has Shakespearean experience is good in this role. It brings more depth to it, and Jim’s had a lot of that experience.”
Hogenmiller isn’t planning to reinvent the musical but it will have distinctive elements. “One of the big things that always makes our productions different is that they are so big,” he said. “We have a full orchestra and we don’t cut anything so people are seeing the entire show as it was intended to be.”
One variance from many other productions is that Hogenmiller will have the prisoners onstage most of the time. “It’s brought a whole other dimension and element to the show,” he said.
Harms concluded that the show is about “the transformative power of art. Cervantes uses his own horrible past as fodder for a lighthearted satire — taking that pain and turning it into something positive and uplifting. And the same thing happens in this musical play. Cervantes tells his story and it transforms the prisoners. They’re different people at the end of the play.”