It’s an afternoon rehearsal and Hurricane Alex is raging full force: tilting at windmills, chomping down lunch and cajoling actors.
Here he is, The Alex Santoriello – more than a thousand miles south from his familiar lights of Broadway — living and dying with Don Quixote in a theatrical rehearsal room at SeaBreeze Recreation Center.
“Don’t act, be natural,” says Santoriello, tall and gangly, with wavy, sandy brown hair. He’s wearing a white shirt with thin blue stripes and dark slacks. He tactfully but firmly instructs six actors. “Don’t get excited because when you get excited, you will miss your lines.”
Watch an exclusive clip of the rehearsal for ‘Man of La Mancha’ below:
Here he is, The Alex Santoriello, living, as Cervantes might say “life as it is,” in, of all places, The Villages. He moved here about two years ago with his wife Karen to be closer to his father, Monty, also a Villager. Now, Santoriello is starring in and directing “Man of La Mancha,” to be presented March 9-12 at Savannah Center.
The Broadway stage is a familiar place for Santoriello. He was in the original, 1987 Broadway production of “Les Miserables.” He also appeared in Broadway productions of “Chess” and “The 3 Penny Opera” and produced a stage production of “A Tale of Two Cities.” He has appeared in movies (“Far From Heaven”) and television (“All My Children”).
Santoriello arrives at rehearsal a half hour early to talk to a visitor. He pulls out a pre-packaged salad and devours it in a few minutes. The man percolates with combustible energy.
He constantly sips coffee.
He waves his hands in the air as he talks in animated machine gun bursts of conversation.
He rambles with funny, theatrical tales about everything from life on the Broadway stage to a recent medical exam.
Santoriello, like Don Quixote, loves to tell stories and also like Quixote, Santoriello’s life seems like a play within a play. He made it to the big time in his early 30s and then abruptly left Broadway about 12 years ago. He went to Barbados, where he became a kind of an entertainment impresario, owning and running a hot, successful nightclub called The Lexy Bar.
Now, Santoriello’s life story brings him to a SeaBreeze rehearsal room and when an actor blows a line, Alex is ready to reassure and advise.
“Take a deep breath, and let it go,” Santoriello says as he loosens his belt buckle, stands straight and exhales. “No, I’m serious, take a deep breath and let it go. I screw up, we all screw up. Just keep your head in the game.”
In this production Santoriello is mentoring a youthful talent named Dawn DiNome for the most challenging role of her career. She plays Aldonza, the “whore” who transforms into the noble lady called Dulcinea.
“I’ve done a lot of acting but nothing like this,” DiNome said. “Alex has taught me so much about acting technique. He wants this to be something special.”
DiNome is best known in The Villages for singing with her father – Ralph DiNome – and his Flashback rock band. She has also appeared in numerous musical revues.
But Aldonza is a giant leap forward. It’s a role filled with pain, violence, love and physical punishment. In one scene, she is assaulted by a group of criminals. In the song “Aldonza,” she describes herself this way:
“Look at the kitchen slut reeking of sweat/Born on a dung heap, to die on a dung heap/A strumpet men use and forget.”
It’s a long way from the real Dawn DiNome, who is a happily married mom and leader of a church choir.
“I have to bring honesty to Aldonza,” DiNome said. “In some ways she reminds me of myself and I think all women can identify with Aldonza. She is part of her environment and she has been told she has no worth.”
Then the aged, “mad” Don Quixote enters the scene and pronounces Aldonza an elegant lady.
“She doesn’t understand what he sees in her,” DiNome said. “She thinks, ‘this is who I am, and I can’t change.’ I’ve been there in relationships and I think most women have been there.”
“Man of La Mancha” is about the fine line between sanity and insanity and also the real and the ideal. Aldonza/Dulcinea is a metaphor for the musical’s most memorable number, “The Impossible Dream.”
“I think that song encompasses what this musical is all about,” DiNome said. “It’s about hope and the ability to change, and that’s what Aldonza is about. I have to look deep inside myself to make this work. I hope I can do the role justice.”
Santoriello believes she will.
“Dawn has talent and youth,” he said. “I’m asking her to take risks. Aldonza is the one who has been brutalized by life but must move on. She is about redemption and the hope for transformation.”
Sam Rosalsky plays Sancho Panza, Quixote’s diminutive and funny sidekick. Billie Thatcher, Dave Olsen, Mia Reeves, Tim Casey and Dave Thoreson are also in the production.
“Man of La Mancha, ”written for the stage by Dale Wasserman, echoes with themes of madness, love, brutality, transformation and idealism. Like the lead character, Don Quixote/Cervantes, Santoriello has a duo personality.
“I feel a kinship to Cervantes,” he said. “”I’m a tough guy, I’ve been in the Army and I can use a gun. But I’m an idealist at heart. I think we can all make the world a much better place. We’re too greedy. We need to give more to help others and accept others, instead of turning them away. We have so much to give.”
Santoriello was just a kid when he saw the original “Man of La Mancha” on Broadway.
Now, all these years later, here is The Alex Santoriello making Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote come to life in The Villages.
“No matter where you are, you have to give 100 percent of who you are to what you do,” he said. “There’s so much talent in The Villages. I think people will be impressed.” He has started a Villages club to help local actors called Pro-Am Theatre Arts.
After three and half hours, rehearsal is nearly over. Santoriello gathers the cast around him in a semi-circle. He speaks in a rare, gentle quiet voice, more like a teacher than director. “All we’ve been doing up to now is finding our space. Now, it’s time to make it real. Now, it’s time to make it work and make it special And we will.”
Santoriello once hired Richard Kiley – who starred in the original production of “Man of La Mancha” — to narrate a play that Santoriello produced.
“The Impossible Dream’ was my (late) mother’s (Joan) favorite song,” Santoriello said. “So, when I hired Kiley, I asked his agent if he would sing it for my mom. ‘Never,’ his agent told me. But I asked him anyway.
“Richard Kiley looked me in the eye and said: ‘Son, some day you will understand what it means not to have to sing for your supper.’
“He wouldn’t do it,” Santoriello said, “but I love that line.”
Don Quixote couldn’t have said it any better.