In Part 1 of a series of interviews with the cast of Laurel Mill Playhouse’s Man of La Mancha, meet Fred Nelson.
Please introduce yourself and tell our readers where they may have seen you perform on the stage and other roles you may have performed.
I’ve been performing regularly since moving to the United States 18 years ago. Over my lifetime, I’ve done somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 theatre productions worldwide. In 2013, I won the WATCH Best Actor award for playing this fella named Tevye. And this summer, I begin my 15th consecutive year playing King Henry VIII at the Maryland Renaissance Festival.
Who do you portray in Man of La Mancha and how do you relate to your character? Does your character remind you of a friend or family member and how?
This is actually the third time I’ve played Don Quixote — but the first time indoors! The previous two outings were originally-scripted adaptations at the Maryland Renaissance Festival. Man of la Mancha adds a few new twists. The actor playing Quixote is also required to played two other roles – Quixote’s alter ego Alonso Quijana and real-life author Miguel de Cervantes.
And it’s a musical, obviously. I knew the role would be physically demanding for a man my age, so I’ve shed a good deal of weight over the past few months … and finally kicked cigarettes out of my life for good as well. Hence, my singing voice is back!
The musical surrounds one of the most influential characters in Spanish literature, Don Quixote. What do you admire most about him?
My favorite anecdote about the character!: Miguel de Cervantes originally wrote Quixote as a one-time standalone story. It proved extraordinarily popular amongst readers of the time.
So much so in fact, that “unauthorized” sequels soon began to flood the book market. They were written by lesser authors to make a quick buck, and they varied widely in quality — mostly bad. Cervantes was forced to endure a full decade of this; owing to the utter lack of copyright laws at the time, there wasn’t anything legal he could do to stop it.
Finally, he caved to the pressure. Amidst much ballyhoo, he wrote and released his AUTHORIZED sequel. And at the end of the story – he simply killed Quixote off in order to prevent further sequels. (Um … spoiler alert.)
So that’s the actual historical reason Quixote dies. It was a message from Cervantes himself: Hands off my character!
What have been some of the challenges learning and performing your role? And how has Director Daniel Douek helped you with these challenges?
I first met my delightfully-crazed director when he and I performed together in I Hate Hamlet last year. And although Quixote has often been played by actors without a hint of accent (movie version Peter O’Toole, for instance), Danny and I both agreed that our version would be MUCH more Spanish … complete with an accent.
And I had the best training imaginable – the director himself! Danny is Argentinian, with an extremely strong accent. I often teasingly accuse him of faking it. Sometimes he has to repeat certain words and phrases several times when addressing my fellow actors in order to make himself understood. But I’ve become attuned to it – and sometimes find myself translating him for others!
So when you hear Quixote speak … you are actually listening to the accent I unashamedly stole from the man who has made my life a delightful hell the past few months. It’s my good-natured revenge on Daniel Douek!
What have you enjoyed most about this experience since beginning rehearsals?
Three words. Mary. Schmidt. Wakefield.
This production re-teams me with one of my favorite actresses and closest friends. She and I spent years together performing on the streets of the Renaissance Festival as father and daughter (King Henry VIII and Princess Mary Tudor). We’ve done several productions together outside of Fest – last year, she and her husband John co-directed me in I Hate Hamlet.
In spite of our age difference, we both know we are well-cast together. We have become attuned to each other after years of performing together. That chemistry and inner monologue translates well to any stage or venue.
And I always knew that Mary could sing. But HOLY CATS, she knocks it out of the ballpark here!
At the final scene of this production, Mary and I both have actual tears rolling down our cheeks. Effective from a theatrical standpoint, of course. But in spite of the sadness of the scene – you are actually watching two good friends crying tears of joy while engaging in their favorite pastime together – presenting some damn fine theatre.
the most famous and popular song in Man of La Mancha is ‘Impossible Dream.’ What have been some of your Impossible Dreams, and have these dreams come true?
Prepare for a twist – “Impossible Dream” is my LEAST-favortie song. And before you order up a lynch mob, hear me out. I’m the one who has to sing it!
No one can deny – this is a hauntingly beautiful, iconic song. And that’s exactly what intimidates the hell out of me. When I was a kid, Jim Nabors and The Temptations each turned in beautiful renditions. That’s my life experience with the song. And I simply can’t help comparing my version to those classics. I hear myself singing the song and often wince inwardly with self-criticism.
Fortunately – even though I know my voice is no comparison to Nabors – I am confident enough in my acting ability (and a certain amount of good old-fashioned BS) to sell that puppy.
What does Man of La Mancha have to say to modern audiences and what do you want them to take with them after seeing this production?
Please depart with the words of the character Cervantes himself:
Maddest of all is this: To see life as it is … and not as it ought to be.
Ilene Chalmers’ review of Man of La Mancha on DCMetroTheaterArts.