Jack E. Curenton’s second career is keeping him quite busy these days.
A highly successful CEO in the business world for more than three decades, he has spent most of the last 10 years pursuing his first passion, performing.
He has worked in film, television and on the stage in all different kinds of roles and is playing Don Quixote in a national tour of “Man of La Mancha,” coming to Proctors for two shows on Saturday.
“I’ve been inspired by this character since 1968,” Curenton said of Don Quixote, who has been played by outstanding performers such as Richard Kiley and Brian Stokes Mitchell on the New York stage and Peter O’Toole on film.
“I did it 38 years ago at Kent State University in a summer stock production and it is clearly my favorite musical. I’ve been inspired by Don Quixote and his story since before it existed in a musical format.”
Curenton grew up in the Akron, Ohio, area, and was involved in theater for much of his young life until the business world called.
’Man of La Mancha’
WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
WHEN: 2 and 8 p.m., Saturday
HOW MUCH: $70-$20
MORE INFO: 346-6204, www.proctors.org
“What happened was I fell in love in my mid-20s, got married and got a job,” he said. “Then I spent 30 years growing a business into the largest service processing company in the world. I set some sales record, was promoted to executive and went and opened our West Coast area of operations.”
Back to stage
In 2005 he returned to the stage as Fagin in “Oliver,” which he says may be his second favorite musical.
“My wife and I had season tickets to the South Bay Civic Light Opera in California and as subscribers they asked us to put down what shows we wanted to see,” he said.
“I put down ‘La Mancha,’ ‘Oliver’ and ‘Kiss Me Kate,’ and while I was talking to the theater owner he asked me what my background was.”
When Curenton mentioned that he had done some theater work, the owner got more interested.
“He told me that if I got back into the business, I would be busier than ever,” related Curenton. “I thought he was being a wise guy, but he started going on and on, telling me how he didn’t hire older people for parts because they couldn’t remember their lines, they couldn’t carry a tune, or they died.”
When the South Bay Civic Light Opera put on “Oliver” the following season, Curenton was cast as Fagin.
“In the audition I sang, ‘Reviewing the Situation,’ and the director said, ‘you’ve done this before, haven’t you?’ ” remembered Curenton. “To make a long story short, we do it, we get rave reviews, our community theater is sold out every night and then we take it on tour.”
Curenton has been on the move ever since. He has directed and produced his own projects, has served as a popular TV spokesman for several companies, and has performed in TV and movies. He has four films that are in post-production and should come out this year, including a two-hour docudrama about Revolutionary War hero Samuel Adams (Curenton plays the lead) that is scheduled to be broadcast on The History Channel.
He loves it all, but playing Quixote is the biggest treat of all.
“His role is to find good where there is bad, to see treasure where there is only trash, and to right all wrongs,” said Curenton. “He sees the good in people.”
Joining Curenton on the Proctors stage Saturday will be Jessica Norland of New York City and Rick Grossman as Quixote’s sidekick, Pancho.
“Man of La Mancha” is based on the 17th century novel “Don Quixote” by Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes. Cervantes wrote himself into the story, and in the play-within-a-play format he also portrays Alonso Quijana and Quixote.
It wasn’t until 1959 that 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 a smash and 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.
While the musical has a number of memorable songs, the signature tune is “The Impossible Dream.” Curenton says he is an actor who can sing — not a singer who can act — and as his business experience might suggest, he knows how to sell things.
Selling a song
“I’m an actor who can really sell a song,” he said. “What disappointed me about the movie is that they didn’t let Peter O’Toole sing. Well, if Rex Harrison can sing in ‘My Fair Lady,’ I think they could have done the same thing with Peter O’Toole. He would have sold it.
“No, I’m not going to sing like Brian Stokes Mitchell,” added Curenton. “He was fantastic. But I’m pretty comfortable on stage and I’ve done a lot of musicals. I get by pretty good.”
Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or firstname.lastname@example.org