BWW Interview: Jessica Norland Dishes on Playing 'Aldonza' in MAN OF LA MANCHA National Tour
Man of La Mancha returns to the stage in an all-new production of the Tony Award winning musical that has inspired audiences since the very first notes of "The Impossible Dream" were heard on opening night.
Man of La Mancha is a remarkable show and one of the great theatre successes of our time. This play-within-a-play is based on Cervantes's Don Quixote, a poignant story of a dying old man whose "impossible dream" takes over his mind. Against all odds, Don Quixote man sees good and innocence in a world filled with darkness and despair. Man of La Mancha won 5 Tony Awards including Best Musical, along with the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Musical and the Outer Critics Circle Award.
The new touring production stops in Austin, TX this week, and star Jessica Norland recently answered several questions for BroadwayWorld regarding the production...
Q: Why do you think Man of La Mancha has engaged audiences for nearly 50 years?
A: The music and the message are timeless. I think everyone can relate to the lyrics of "The Impossible Dream." We should all strive to better ourselves and the world we live in. And I hope that by the end of the show, audiences are reminded that they have the ability to change their own lives and the lives of others for the better.
Q: What is it like to step into the beloved role of Aldonza?
A: I was incredibly intimidated at first. Some of the most amazing actresses have played the role before me and I have huge shoes to fill. But the role is so well written that I just try to live in the moment and not overthink it! This is a dream come true for me and I am so grateful for this opportunity.
Q: What was your reaction when you got the call that you were cast as Aldonza?
A: The audition process had been intense and I had left the room feeling like I had done my best, but I couldn't tell what the artistic team was thinking. So when Alison Franck called me to offer the role, I think my first questions were, "Are you sure? This isn't a joke, right?" I tried to remain calm, cool, and collected, but the second I got off the phone I started screaming and running around my apartment like a crazy person! There were definitely some tears shed and then I immediately called my mom and fiancé!
Q: Between the vocal demands of the role and the complexities of the character, Aldonza is certainly a tough character to play. What's your favorite thing about playing the role?
A: Really, Aldonza is a character that a prisoner is playing. When Cervantes chooses this prisoner to play the role of Aldonza, her life changes. Aldonza and Dulcinea are both parts of the prisoner and when she lets them in, and allows Cervantes to affect her, she is changed in a way she never expected. I love the journey the prisoner goes on as well as the journey from Aldonza to Dulcinea.
Q: What are some of your dream roles?
A: Aldonza has always been a dream role of mine and I've been lucky enough to play some of my dream roles already. I have played Louise in Gypsy and Anita in West Side Story. I would love to play Elphaba, Eva Peron, and one day, Mama Rose!
Q: What's your favorite moment in the show?
A: It's hard to choose just one moment! I love the scene between Aldonza and the animals. It's a moment where the audience gets to see her alone and with her guard down. After some small talk with a horse and donkey (the actors who play them are so sweet and heartwarming...) she sings the song, "What Does He Want of Me?" I also love listening to "The Impossible Dream" every night! Jack E. Curenton, our Quixote, sings the song in a way that I feel like I'm hearing the words for the first time, every time. Then, to get to sing the same song in the finale with the entire cast and our incredible orchestra, my heart almost bursts every night.
Q: When did you know that you wanted to become an actress?
A: I had a cousin who was playing Baby June in a local production of Gypsy. I idolized her, and the second I saw her on that stage, I knew I wanted to be up there with her. My parents found an audition for a production of Peter Pan and my dad took me. I was seven and when it was my turn, my Dad wanted to walk me into the auditorium, but I refused to let him and stormed in there all by myself! Actually, Todd Fenstermaker, our Captain of the Inquisition, was Captain Hook in that production. That was about 20 years ago.
Q: What performers inspire you?
A: I love leading ladies. My top three would be Laura Benanti, Stephanie J. Block, and Audra McDonald. In addition to their incomparable talent, I admire the strength, grace, and sense of ease they all possess.
Q: How have audiences responded to the tour so far?
A: The audiences have been wonderful. The energy they feed us changes from the beginning of the show to the end. It feels as though they have gone on this journey with us. I love hearing them sigh, gasp, cry, and laugh along with us. I can't wait for Austin and the rest of the cities!
MAN OF LA MANCHA, produced by Columbia Artists Theatricals, plays The Long Center of the Performing Arts at 701 W. Riverside Dr, Austin 78704. Performances are Tuesday January 14th and Wednesday January 15th at 7:30pm. Tickets are $39-$79. For tickets and information, visit www.thelongcenter.org.
MAN OF LA MANCHA features direction by Jeffrey B. Moss and a cast that features Jack E. Curenton as Don Quixote, Jessica Norland as Aldonza and Rick Grossman as Sancho, along with Jebbel Arce, Felipe Bombonato, Chuck Caruso, Rachel Felstein, Todd Fenstermaker, Alison Gleason, Tucker Hammock, Chuck Hodges, Ivan Hoffman, Arthur Lazalde, Gabriel Rodrigues, Andrew Serkes, Grant Snuffer, Eugene Steficek, and Yvonne Strumecki. Denis Jones choreographs, with musical supervision by Cherie Rosen. The costumes are designed and executed by Lucille Lortel Winners and Drama Desk Nominees Michael Bottari and Ronald Case.
For more tour information, visit www.columbiaartiststheatricals.com.