Sheryl Jensen helms ‘La Mancha’ at Teatro ZucconeIf you’re unfamiliar with this Broadway classic, it tells the story of Don Quixote as a play within a play, performed by Miguel de Cervantes and his fellow prisoners as he awaits a hearing during the Spanish Inquisition.
Apparently Sheryl Jensen’s parents didn’t explain the word “retirement” to her when she was a little girl. Not only does the former Ordean and East teacher continue to serve as The Woman Today’s managing editor, but she also keeps plugging away in the theater world.
Her latest venture is “Man of La Mancha,” which is being produced by Zeitgeist Arts at Teatro Zuccone.
“You know, I’ll probably still direct when I need a walker to get into rehearsal,” she told the Budgeteer with a laugh. “It’s something I really love doing, and it energizes me in a way that I think nothing else does.”
Fittingly, Jensen explained the process by referencing “Putting it Together,” the classic Stephen Sondheim song from 1984’s “Sunday in the Park with George.”
“Every time you do a show it’s like a jigsaw puzzle: You take one piece at a time … bit by bit,” she said. “You get it together and what’s satisfying is when you sit back and you see the totality.”
Jensen was first approached by Zeitgeist Arts’ Alan Zeppa about doing the show last summer when she was directing “Sweeney Todd” at the Play Ground.
“He was really excited about ‘Sweeney Todd’ being a big show in a small space,” said Jensen, who had directed Zeppa in “The Music Man” at the Playhouse. “There were lots of challenges associated with ‘Sweeney Todd’ to do that, but we made it work, with musicians, an orchestra and doing the whole big musical-theater piece.”
Jensen said Zeppa had been impressed with a similarly arranged production of “Man of La Mancha” and wanted to see it done that way in Duluth.
“[He saw it in] a small theater, and he said it was one of the best productions he’d ever seen ... an intriguing use of the space,” she relayed. “Again, they took a really big show and they put it in a small space.”
Despite the fact that Renegade is Teatro’s resident theater company, it was decided that “La Mancha” would be staged there. (Renegade’s big holiday show, a dinner-theater take on “A Christmas Carol,” will be presented at Clyde.)
“I think one key thing that [Zeppa] is looking to do is get a different demographic into Teatro Zuccone, because obviously Renegade is producing things that are appealing to the under-45 set,” Jensen said. “... Because Renegade is doing new titles or edgier titles, Alan is really looking to maybe get some classic pieces in there once a year that will bring a different audience demographic.”
Looking at the bigger picture, such a move also introduces different audiences to the building’s movie theater (Zinema 2) and restaurant (Zeitgeist Arts Café).
“Once they get down there, they see there’s a cool movie theater downtown, just down the steps from Teatro Zuccone — and there’s a cool restaurant there where they can eat,” said Jensen, mentioning that full-building tie-ins include limited-run Spanish dishes and “Quixote cocktails” at the café.
If you’re unfamiliar with this Broadway classic (revived four times), it tells the story of Don Quixote as a play within a play, performed by Miguel de Cervantes and his fellow prisoners as he awaits a hearing during the Spanish Inquisition.
Jensen’s first exposure to “La Mancha” came in the form of a touring company visiting Minneapolis “a long time ago.”
“At the time I really liked it, but I hadn’t ever really considered it a play I’d want to direct,” she said. “... I guess over the years I’ve had this perception that it is one of those dustier pieces of Broadway theater. It’s not; it’s so alive.”
Needless to say, it’s grown on the veteran Northland director.
“The more I play with it, the more I work with it, [I realize] it’s a beautiful musical. There’s so much there,” she said. “… There are so many thematic elements that are so current, so political — so into today’s news. I think it speaks to audiences today in ways that it didn’t in ’65 (when it debuted on Broadway).”
Not only that but “Cervantes is almost as quotable as Shakespeare.”
“He has these wonderful observations about life,” Jensen added.
In the visual department, Jensen said she owes everything to Ann Gumpper. The heralded scene designer has transformed the Teatro space into a 16th century prison.
“They’re even letting us paint the walls — as long as we paint them black again when we’re done,” Jensen noted.
The director said one of the biggest challenges of the space is putting a complete set on the relatively small stage. The “La Mancha” team worked around this problem by extending it out toward the audience and having Cervantes’ cell mates bridge the gap between patrons and performers.
“So the prisoners will be very close to the audience as this whole ‘Quixote’ story is going on onstage,” she explained. “I think it’s going to be a fun show for the audience to really feel a sense of immediacy with the storytelling. I’m really excited about that.”
NEWS TO USE
“Man of La Mancha” will be staged at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 2-4, 9-11 and 16-18 and at 2 p.m. Dec. 5, 12 and 19 at Teatro Zuccone. Cost is $20 for adults and $10 for students.