Set in a 16th century dungeon, “Man of La Mancha” is the musical version of the classic “Don Quixote.” Kaua‘i Community College’s year-end finale opens this weekend with KCC faculty and play director Greg Shepherd starring as the ineffable Don Quixote.
For those who don’t know the story, it’s a play within a play. Cervantes and his manservant Sancho Panza, portrayed by Nestor Figueroa, are imprisoned and awaiting trial by the Inquisition. Inside the huge dungeon into which they have been cast — an impressive set built by Kaua‘i’s high school students enrolled in the KCC Construction Academy — the other prisoners gang up on Cervantes and Sancho Panza. They create a mock trial with the intention of stealing Cervantes’ possessions. Forced to defend his ideals before fellow prisoners, in his defense he tells the tale of Alonso Quihana, an elderly gentleman who goes mad and proclaims himself a knight. Shepherd plays the windmill-jousting Don Quixote who wields a twisted sword to defend his damsel in distress, Dulcinea, played by Nalani Kaauwai-Brun.
Shepherd contacted Kaauwai-Brun specifically for the role of Dulcinea.
“We used to sing together with the Kaua‘i Chamber Singers,” he said, adding that he knew she could handle the demands of the part.
Shepherd and a mix of students and community talent have been rehearsing since January. Rehearsals began in Shepherd’s classroom, which the cast of nearly 50 quickly outgrew. Shepherd said he could never have taken on this epic project had it not been for Ho‘ola Lahui Hawai‘i allowing them to rehearse in their dance studio. Ho‘ola Lahui Hawai‘i is a non-profit organization that promotes wellness through exercise in a small studio in Lihu‘e. The venue for the play is the KCC Performing Arts Center which does not allow classes to rehearse on its premises.
“We were standing outside Greg’s classroom in the rain,” said Kaauwai Brun, who not only plays a leading role in “Man of La Mancha,” but is also fitness program coordinator of Ho‘ola Lahui. “And I offered the studio as an alternative.”
The dance studio not only provided rehearsal space but also housed all of the props and costumes as well.
“The (KCC PAC) wouldn’t let us store anything in the theater until a week before the performance,” Shepherd said.
Undeterred, Shepherd’s costumer and prop maker managed to not only make all of the medieval garb, but paint the set and help produce the play as well.
“Esther Manning did the costumes all by hand and without a pattern,” Shepherd said. “She even made the horse heads.”
Shepherd attributes the success of the show to the power of the women involved.
“Aki Conquest is my conductor and pianist. Brenda Biehler Turville did choreography. Esther supervised the set,” he said. “I’m the thorn among the roses.”
Also in the cast are a few keiki from the community — the youngest being 9 years old.
“I take the words ‘community’ and ‘college’ seriously,” Shepherd said. “I want to include everyone.”
Most of the major parts went to KCC students: Gabrielle Davidson as Antonia, Ralph Guest as the Duke, Ezra Fernandez as the Barber, Lana Coffman as the Gypsy Dancer, Mercedes Johnson as a Flamenco dancer, and muleteers Chris Check, Jace Turville, Steve Pinzer and Kameron Fort.
Tickets are $15 at the door, $12 in advance from ticket outlets, $10 for students ages 12 to 25. Ticket outlets are Kmart, Kapaia Stitchery, Bounty Music and North Shore Pharmacy.