The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey continues their season this fall with the musical MAN OF LA MANCHA Oct 17 - Nov 18. BroadwayWorld got a chance to talk to William Michals who leads the company as Cervantes/Don Quixote and is busy preparing for opening night.
Thanks for joining us William! You have played several leading men from Harold Hill to Captain Von Trapp to the Beast. How does this latest role compare on that list?
William Michals: Wow! You've picked some interesting roles to compare with Quixote! What sets Cervantes/Quixote apart, is that, for much of the play, my character is acutely aware that he is performing as an actor for the other characters on the stage. He is telling a story that must inspire and entertain those people, in order to avoid a higher consequence – the burning of his life's work, the manuscript of his novel "Don Quixote". This is the most delicious aspect of this role, because I must call upon all my resources as actor, storyteller, and singer, and channel them through a 16th century character…who happens to be an actor and playwright. In comparison, von Trapp is like a walk through the Edelweiss!
That’s great. There are so many different 'takes' on playing the mad knight - how did you approach this role with artistic director Bonnie J. Monte?
Bonnie is not satisfied to re-create someone else's vision, much less a stock interpretation, of this classic work of theater. So, I do not think that she is referencing or imprinting any particular "take" on the role, or the play. Honesty, truth, presence, reality, high stakes, and character motivation are more the center of Bonnie's process in the staging of MAN OF LA MANCHA, and I am being inspired to reach deep within myself, and allow Cervantes/Quixote to be as real as possible. Our goal is not "musical comedy" as much as the "musical play" Wasserman intended. That is oh, so refreshing when approaching this familiar role.
That is wonderful. Playing such well known roles, it must be a mix of challenge and excitement when an actor performs a song engrained in the minds of an audience. Tell us about "The Impossible Dream"?
The Impossible Dream along with Some Enchanted Evening, are by far my most requested songs in concert. I've sung those hundreds, even thousands of times! The challenge, for me, is not necessarily what you might think. The challenge is finding the complexity and depth of meaning in a deceptively simple or straightforward song. Great songs are great because, somehow, they communicate directly to the heart, if done properly. Meaning that, my goal in performing them is to somehow transcend melody, lyrics, and voice, and just have some kind of magical communication with the audience of ideas, images, and feelings. That kind of communion with an audience is made all the more possible when the song you're singing is familiar. The ultimate challenge is being transparent in that way - allowing the audience to see into one's soul, and, in the process, viscerally share in the experience. And that's where the excitement comes in.
It's also the first time The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey has produced a musical since 2004. Has this cast felt that significance and perhaps 'pressure' while rehearsing?
Bonnie makes no secret of her personal connection with this work, as well as the challenges and aspirations of the theatre company. It's hard for her to avoid using the most obvious terms, like quixotic and impossible dream, when celebrating the acquisition of the new facility on Vreeland Road, for instance. For us in the company, our heads are in the work of mounting a play, and, being professionals - all of us. We always commit to presenting the most honest and affecting performance possible.
You played Emile de Becque in the Tony Award-winning and highly received SOUTH PACIFIC at Lincoln Center a few years back: such a wonderfully imagined version of the show. Any memorable stories from that experience?
It was a blessing to be part of that production, and to stand on stage at Lincoln Center singing that superb score, with the full orchestra Rogers imagined. My overall memory is simply the joy of telling that story, and of having that music wash over me, eight times a week.
You also did something few actors do by appearing as one character in a Broadway show (The Beast) and then returning to play another (Gaston). What was it like to return to BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and take on a different role?