Westchester Broadway Theatre Takes A Stab At Man Of La Mancha

An inside look at Elmsford-based theatre’s new production of one of the Great White Way’s most beloved musicals, Man of La Mancha

When director David Wasson discusses Man of La Mancha, he does so with the fervor of a missionary. “This play has the ability to change people’s perspective—even if it’s briefly—and take away the cynicism that most of us live with in the world,” he states. “The musical’s original director, Albert Marre, always said, ‘This is not just a play; it is a religious experience.’”

This has apparently been true for countless audiences, though when Man of La Mancha first hit the stage in 1964, critics were divided. Most panned the piece, while a few celebrated its inspiring message and innovative interpretation of Cervantes’ Don Quixote. And yet, despite its lukewarm reception, theatergoers around the country instantly embraced it. The musical steadily moved into larger theaters, won five Tony Awards, was revived four separate times on Broadway and spawned adaptations in more than a dozen languages. 

The play is now regarded as one of the finest examples of American musical theater, and, this month, Wasson brings this masterwork to life at the Westchester Broadway Theatre in Elmsford, through May 1. “Everything in my life has revolved around Man of La Mancha,” muses Wasson, who has been intimately involved in the play since its earliest iterations. He was invited by Marre to act in the musical’s first revival in 1972.

- Advertisement -

It was Marre who had seen a telecast of Dale Wasserman’s first made-for-TV production of Man of La Mancha and suggested that the television spot be turned into a stage musical. The ensuing work details the imprisonment of the author Miguel de Cervantes, who puts on a jailhouse production to stave off a group of prisoners who want to burn his treasured manuscript. Cervantes’ impromptu play-within-a-play relates the exhilarating and at times heart-rending tale of Don Quixote and his squire, Sancho Panza.

The musical features minimal staging and props, with locations changing only by means of lighting. “The play originally took place on an empty stage, and everything conceivably came out of a trunk that Cervantes brought down into prison,” recalls Wasson. “All the magic is done with lighting, and this forces the audience to use their imagination, which I think is lost in this day and age. The beautiful part of this play is that it makes the audience an active participant.”

The star of the Westchester Broadway Theatre’s production, Paul Schoeffler, similarly notes that his “favorite kind of theater is the kind that asks the audience to use their imagination. Man of La Mancha invites the audience to be participatory in the experience, and I think there is something so powerful about that.”

And yet Schoeffler, a resident of Yonkers who made a name for himself with a leading role in the smash musical Rock of Ages and will be playing Cervantes, warns that the staging of such a complex, multilayered work must be handled carefully. “It’s a tricky piece because whenever you do this play-within-a-play, you are walking a tightrope. You don’t want it to become a parody of itself, so getting that balance right is very tricky. Fortunately, the material is terrific.”

Wasson is quick to detail just what is so terrific about it. “There is always room for the belief that right will win out in the end,” he says of La Mancha. “I think [the play] attacks the cynicism of our society.” 

- Partner Content -

“I believe the piece works because it has heart,” echoes Schoeffler. “It talks about the triumph of the human spirit in spite of all odds. It speaks to people, and there is a reason why it has been around for so long.”

It is this 52-year tradition that Wasson aspires to honor. “Sometimes reinterpretation is not the best, and sometimes you just need to go back to the simple reasons why a production worked in the first place and to not try to improve on what’s already been improved on,” he says. “I want to go back to that original simplicity that made it a hit to begin with, in honor of those men and women who first brought it to life.”

This attention to the play’s heritage extends to virtually every element of Westchester Broadway Theatre’s production. Like the original run, the play will take place on a thrust stage in which the audience partially surrounds the performers. “The actors are among the audience, forcing the spectators into their world. And the set design is exquisite,” says Wasson. “The designers have tried to stay very, very true to the look of the original set.”

Regardless of the staging or set design, above all, both Wasson and Schoeffler agree that Man of La Mancha rarely fails to inspire a special kind of optimism in those who view it. “It’s about humanity and never letting that die,” says Schoeffler of the play. “We get beaten down by life,” chimes in Wasson. “But Don Quixote never got beaten down; there was always this hope within the character, and that is the beauty of what Cervantes wrote.” 

Our Best of Westchester Party is July 24!

Our Westchester Home Design Awards event is June 26!

Our Wine & Food Festival returns June 4-9!

Our Wunderkinds event takes place on May 23!

Our Best of Business Ballot is open through May 15!

Our Healthcare Heroes Awards event takes place on May 9!

Our Westchester Home Builders Awards take place on April 4!

Our Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Forum is March 14!

Unveiled: A Boutique Bridal Brunch is February 25!

Holiday flash sale ... subscribe and save 50%

Limited time offer. New subscribers only.