Pretending to be Max Bialystock was hilarious, and portraying Wilbur Turnblad was a lot of fun. Still, as far as Robert Anthony Jones is concerned, the role of Sancho Panza offers a character actor just about everything he could want in a Broadway musical.
“It’s great music, and ‘Man of La Mancha’ also has a number of dramatic moments and an awful lot of heart in it,” said Jones, who is playing Sancho, Don Quixote’s sidekick, in the 1965 Broadway classic opening Friday at Capital Repertory Theatre. “I love this show and I know the message sounds corny, but I love that message. You can do what you want as long as you set your mind to it.”
Jones, a native of Islip, Long Island, will share the Cap Rep stage with Hoosick Falls native Kevin McGuire. The founder of The Theatre Company at Hubbard Hall in Cambridge and a Broadway veteran, McGuire is playing the lead character, 16th century writer Miguel de Cervantes, and the two characters he conjures up with his imagination: a country squire by the name of Alonso Quijana and a dauntless knight known as Don Quixote.
‘Man of La Mancha’
WHERE: Capital Repertory Theatre, 111 N. Pearl St., Albany
WHEN: Friday through Dec. 17; performance times are 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday; and 7 p.m. Sunday; check with the theater for special matinees
HOW MUCH: $70-$40
MORE INFO: 445-7469, www.capitalrep.org
From TV to stage
Pancho is the faithful servant of Quijana, who believes himself to be Don Quixote, and the pair travel the countryside looking to rescue women from dragons and evil knights, basically righting all wrongs.
For a related story on this show, click here.
Cervantes actually was a Spanish author from the early 17th century and wrote the novel “Don Quixote.” In 1959, Dale Wasserman wrote his own teleplay based on Cervantes’ work and called it “I, Don Quixote.” Six years later, Wasserman adapted the teleplay for the stage, and Mitch Leigh (music) and Joe Darion (lyrics) turned it into a musical with its current name, “Man of La Mancha.” The show was an instant hit, ran for 2,328 performances and won five Tonys. It has also been revived on Broadway four times, the most recent production earning five Tony nominations.
For Gazette theater writer Paul Lamar’s review of this show, click here.
When Jones takes the Cap Rep stage this weekend, it will mark the eighth time he has played Sancho. While he has also performed as Bialystock in “The Producers” and Tracy Turnblad’s father in “Hairspray,” Sancho is his favorite.
“This is the third time I’ve played Sancho in the past 11 months,” said Jones, who was in “Man of La Mancha” in Rhode Island in July and in South Carolina last winter. “I hope I’ve gotten better at it, and I think I have. Hopefully you like to land some jokes, but I also want to get at the real meat of the character, instead of just the surface. I want to get to the truth of the character. The show is comical, but there’s also so much more to the character of Sancho.”
Jones’ acting career began in the sixth grade when his older sister coaxed him into a small part in the school production of “Oliver.”
“They told me I was too ‘healthy’ to play Oliver,” joked Jones. “But it had great music and I always felt like singing when I was a kid. Singing is something I’ve always done. I feel most comfortable doing that. The acting part came a little bit later, after I got some training. But the singing just came naturally.”
After high school, he went to Hofstra University, where he majored in theater arts. After graduating he went to New York and began his professional career.
“Fortunately I found a lot of work right off the bat,” he said. “I didn’t have to wait tables, although I did work as a singing waiter once so maybe that would fall under that category. But I know it doesn’t always happen like that for people, so I was lucky.”
Along with his numerous regional theater credits, he has performed in three off-Broadway shows and also played Jinx in “The 101 Dalmatians Musical.”
He has also performed at the Mac-Haydn Theatre, but “La Mancha” is his first time on stage in Albany. It is also his first time working with McGuire and Anne Fraser Thomas, who is the female lead, Aldonza.
“I have not worked with Mr. McGuire before, but we have become fast friends, and you have to be for this show,” said Jones. “He is a love, and Anne Fraser Thomas is just something to behold. Her voice is amazing.”
Directing the production is Cap Rep artistic producer Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill.
“Every time you go to New York to do auditions you see wonderfully talented people,” she said. “The top three are always fabulous, and Robert and Anne were both amazing. They were both brand new to me, but they were my top choices, and I was very happy when they agreed to do the show.”
As for McGuire, Mancinelli-Cahill had been trying to recruit him to Cap Rep for quite some time. Finally, the scheduling worked.
“Kevin is a beautiful singer, and he has a very expressive singing voice,” Mancinelli-Cahill said of McGuire, who has performed on Broadway as Jean Valjean and in Toronto as the title character in “The Phantom of the Opera.”
“I’ve never seen him do this show before, but I knew he’d be wonderful at it. In my mind, I’ve been hearing him do all the songs. Along with his voice, he has that wonderful presence that makes him perfect for the part.”
While Jones has universally received great reviews for his show-stopping rendition of “I Really Like Him,” the signature song in the play is “The Impossible Dream,” sung by McGuire as Don Quixote about halfway through the show.
“That’s a great song, and there is something very endearing about the idealistic dreamer,” said Jones. “Sometimes everyone is laughing at him, but they’re also rooting for him. They want to see him reach that unreachable star.”
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