Every Hero Needs a Sidekick

An Interview With Alex West as Sancho Panza
By Lizzie DeShaw

Alex West is playing Sancho Panza in City Theatre of Independence’s production of Man of La Mancha. I have asked him to answer some questions about the show and his character.

LIZZIE: Tell me about yourself. What is your background in theatre?

ALEX: Way back in the 1970’s I got my start with music with the Independence Youth Choir. My first musical was ‘Teen!’ at Bridger Junior High. I studied theatre at H.S. Truman High School with Kat Tucker and voice with Millicent Daughtery at Music/Arts Institute. My first love is opera. I studied vocal performance after high school at the UMKC Conservatory of Music. Unfortunately, I found out quickly that I don’t have the temperament to sing professionally. So I moved to the University of Wisconsin – Whitewater to study theatre. After college, I’ve created theatre companies, written murder mysteries, acted, and performed with Full Frontal Comedy improv troupe.

LIZZIE: Who is Sancho Panza?

ALEX: In many ways, Sancho Panza is the ‘everyman’ of Cervantes’ works about Don Quixote. Sancho is the common in everyday life. A person that almost creates the humanitarian center between all the archetypal characters in these stories.
He is a peasant servant in the house of Alonso Quijana. He could be following Quijana (as Don Quixote) for adventure, or to watch after his master as he goes mad, or maybe just to get away from his wife. Possibly it’s a mixture of all three. But what the audience sees is a man who espouses ‘common’ wisdom, excitement for the fantastic, and skepticism for the surreal. He is a moral center that characters like Antonia, Doctor Carrasco, and the innkeeper’s wife can be judged against.

LIZZIE: It’s my understanding that Sancho Panza is a dream role for you. What has it been like getting to fulfill that dream?

ALEX: It has been an absolute treat. It is so rewarding to get to perform a character that really stretches the actor’s abilities and skills. Sancho Panza is the clown of the show. He has some of the most compassionate lines and some of the most difficult music. Sancho gets to sing those elements that just ‘don’t fit’ with other characters. He sings everything from the recitative with ‘The Missive’ to the patter song with ‘a Little Gossip’.
And Sancho is so broadly written that it can be performed by almost anyone that falls in that tenor range, from Mandy Patinkin to James Coco (my favorite!).

LIZZIE: Tell me about your experience with rehearsing Man of La Mancha.

ALEX: It’s a physically demanding show. If it’s not a dance scene, it’s a fight scene. If it’s not a fight scene, it’s a reflective moment between just a few characters. There’s a song, usually being earnestly belted, every few minutes. You have to go from quiet introspection to singing high A’s and B’s within seconds of each other.
I’ve met few directors like David Rogers that really understand how difficult that is and can adequately prepare the cast for those rigors.
On top of that, we truly lucked out in the casting department. This cast is phenomenal. There are so many strong voices and dynamic actors.

LIZZIE: In your opinion, what about Man of La Mancha has made it such a beloved show? What do you hope the audience will take away from the story?

ALEX: The books that Man of La Mancha are based on are some of the most popular and best sold works in history. Some estimates suggest that Miguel de Cervantes’ The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha is, besides the Bible, the best selling book of all time. It was the first major work written in what we know as ‘modern’ Spanish (also the first major work written in ‘modern’ Spanish to be plagiarized). Most of the 400 first edition printings of the book were sent to the ‘New World’ in 1605. Some even found their way to the Inca Empire. Needless to say, it was hugely popular from the first printing. And it is a satire, poking fun at the nostalgia of the chivalric age in the face of worldwide exploration and conquest, and the barbary that entailed. To say that the political climate between 1965 (when Dale Wasserman, Mitch Leigh, and Joe Darion wrote the musical) and 1972 (when Peter O’Toole, Sophia Lauren, and James Coco starred in the movie) was similar to the idea of Spanish chivalry in the late 16th and early 17th century would not be a huge stretch. We were in the midst of the Vietnam war, civil strife was rampant, and people were looking anywhere for distraction.
And, honestly, it’s not dissimilar to the times we live in now.

LIZZIE: Thank you so much for chatting with me, Alex. Break a leg on your upcoming performances!

Man of La Mancha runs June 3-5 and June 10-12 at the Roger T. Sermon Center Powerhouse Theatre. Tickets can be purchased in advance by following this link
http://www.ticketleap.com/events/?q=City+Theatre+of+Independence

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