Don Quixote's quest for the impossible dream has entertained generations with a message deeper than just the mad antics of a confused knight who battles windmills.
"Don Quixote is the quintessential role in baritone theater," said Gary Sorenson, who opens next week in CenterPoint Legacy Theatre's production of "Man of la Mancha." Sorensen, of Syracuse, plays Don Quixote, a double-cast lead role he shares with Rhett Richins of Fruit Heights.
Other cast members share Sorenson's sentiments about the show.
"This is absolutely a dream role, I don't think there is an actor out there who wouldn't want to play Aldonza at some point," said Sunny Bringhurst of Bountiful. She and Adrien Swenson, of Cottonwood Heights, share that role.
"Man of la Mancha" debuted on Broadway in 1965, and is based on the 1605 novel by Miguel de Cervantes, who based parts of the story on his own life. The musical opens with Cervantes and his manservant imprisoned and awaiting trial during the Spanish Inquisition. The other prisoners set up a mock trial in which Cervantes will lose all of his belongings if he does not win. To plead his case, Cervantes produces a manuscript he has been working on and begins assigning roles to the other prisoners. Together, they act out the adventures of the knight-errant, Don Quixote.
Don Quixote is the alias taken by a retired country gentleman, Alonso Quixano -- the protagonist of Cervantes' manuscript -- who has read so many books on chivalry that his perception of reality has become distorted. He sets out on an adventure to help prove his chivalric virtues and appoints a squire, Sancho Panza -- played by Cervantes' manservant -- to accompany him.
Through his journeys as the optimistic Don Quixote, Cervantes reveals some of the horrors he has seen while serving as a soldier in Italy and while captive as a slave in Africa.
"Cervantes has experienced hell on earth," Sorenson said. "This is him coming to grips and dealing with that."
This is Sorenson's first show with CenterPoint Legacy Theatre. He earned a masters degree in vocal performance from the Conservatory of Music in San Francisco, and is a Weber State University vocal instructor.
"Music and theater are all I do," Sorenson said.
After singing this production's principal song, "Dream the Impossible Dream," for decades, Sorenson is excited to finally perform the number in the show.
"This role has amazing amounts of philosophy that take a lot of life experience to really understand," he said. "Don Quixote sees life not as it is, but as it ought to be. He does not accept mediocrity. He is quick to give retribution to those who offend chivalry."
Quixote comes upon Aldonza, a barmaid and prostitute, and calls her the fair Dulcinea.
"He sees the best in her as a woman with value and nobility of spirit."
This is also Richins' first production with CenterPoint Legacy Theatre, and his first unpaid performance in years.
"I have been all over," Richins said. "I studied in New York and for a short time in L.A. I have done several Equity regional shows and a season at Pioneer Theatre Company as well as shows at the Hale Centre Theatre. I came to this because of the opportunity to work with the directors, Josh and Jennie Richardson, as well as a dear friend (Swenson, playing Aldonza).
"On a philosophical side, this story really represents my mind -- seeing the potential that exists in the world instead of accepting things the way they are," Richins said.
Richins praised the Richardsons for bringing depth to the story and raising the bar for the ensemble to a new level.
"It is not just a show to laugh at," he said. "Especially now, there is a large amount of turmoil, negativity and uncertainty. A story of hope that is real is very welcome. The real story is how the story of Don Quixote impacted the lives of the prisoners."
This is Swenson's first show at CenterPoint Legacy Theatre. She is excited to fill the role of Aldonza.
"I have had my eye on this role since college," the actress said. "She is a great character. She is well-written. She has a big heart, but she hides it because she has been hurt and abused her whole life. Don Quixote shows her that she is worth more than she thinks she is. I love sharing that message with audiences, especially women. Sometimes we don't think we are worth much and someone invites us to see things differently."
Bringhurst, of Bountiful, is also joining CenterPoint Legacy Theatre for the first time, playing Aldonza.
"The range of emotions is challenging. It is good to work the muscles that don't come out in the lighter hearted shows," she said. Bringhurst enjoys the message of the story.
"It is pretty timeless. It causes you to change your perception and see a whole different world. You can get into a mode of stressing out and this changes it so everything becomes a wonderful place."
Husband and wife directors Josh and Jennie Richardson, of Farmington, have directed shows at CenterPoint Legacy Theatre before and enjoy acting at the Hale Centre Theatre.
"He sees things that I don't while I am looking from another angle. It always helps to have another set of eyes," Jennie Richardson said of their directing partnership. "I think the best thing about this show is that it tries to take the world back to a simpler time when a person's word meant something. Don Quixote doesn't judge people. He sees them in their best light. It leaves the audience with that same hope for change and the idea that it is never too late. It doesn't matter what year it is, there is always something to be learned from it," she said.
Sorenson believes the passion of Don Quixote is summed up in his response to the question, "Why do you do these things?"
Quixote's reply: "I hope to add some measure of grace to the world."
- WHAT: 'Man of la Mancha'
- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, April 21-May 17
- WHERE: CenterPoint Legacy Theatre, 525 N. 400 West, Centerville
- TICKETS: $19-$22, call 801-298-1302 or visit www.centerpointtheatre.org