BWW Interviews: William Michals of The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey's MAN OF LA MANCHA

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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?

The two characters had similar, yet opposite arcs in that story. The Beast, at the top of the play, perceives himself and the world as ugly and malformed. His journey is the discovery of the beauty and love within himself, which manifests in the magical transformation onstage. Gaston, a beautiful man, grows uglier and uglier as the story progresses, and ultimately dies as a result of his own hateful and malicious act. It was a hoot and a holler to play both, but certainly a more satisfying experience to earn redemption - and get the girl - at the end as The Beast! I happened to be playing Gaston at the time of 9/11, and it was deeply repugnant to be portraying a character that represented the hateful of the world, while we were in the midst of such communal pain. But the chance to help transport people, even for a few moments, with that wonderful story was priceless.

What a wonderful gift to give to those that would come to the city during that time. Since you mentioned it, I would be remise to not ask about the honor of opening the 9/11 Memorial that took place just three months after the horrible attack in 2001. You represented not only NY, but the country that day. What was that experience like?

Rudy Giuliani asked me, as a friend, to sing "Let There Be Peace On Earth" in the ruins of Ground Zero that December, and I have never felt prouder to be a New Yorker and an American. All the workers stopped for a brief moment, and it felt as if the whole world was there with us, trying to make sense of the devastation, and trying to imagine a time when such insanity would cease to exist. I suppose Cervantes had such moments, as well, as he served as a soldier and faced the Inquisitors. 

Beautiful. We know you'll be spending a month in New Jersey for this show (and audiences in Morris County are very lucky in that), but what comes next for you?

New Jersey is where I grew up, and my kids go to Columbia High School in Maplewood, so I feel right at home here! I have a busy concert career, in addition to theater work, and, in the next few months, I’ll be all over, from Florida, to the Colorado Symphony, off to Hong Kong, and then back to Jersey! I'm hoping to have a new website- as well as a new CD of Broadway classics - available by opening night of La Mancha! Please visit www.WilliamMichals.com for details. 

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today, William. 

THANK YOU!  

You can see William in this amazing role October 17-November 18 at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey. Visit www.ShakespeareNJ.org for complete details.

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Gregory G. Allen Gregory G. Allen is a member of the Dramatist Guild and has been in the entertainment business for twenty five years as an actor, writer, composer, artistic director, and producer. He was a composer in the BMI Musical Theatre Workshop, has had over ten shows that he has served as book writer and/or composer/lyricists produced on stage, received numerous grants and awards for writing, has had short stories and articles published in a dozen different anthologies and websites, and is an award-winning author of three novels and a children's picture book on autism awareness.


 
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