Remembering an actor's 'Impossible Dream'

JIM SULLIVAN/Staff photoMichael Blanchette as Don Quixote in Amesbury Community Theatre's production of "The Impossible Dream,” which will be performed July 19-21 at Belleville Congregational Church in Newburyport. 

NEWBURYPORT — Longtime North Shore theater actor Tom Whateley was in the middle of directing his dream production of “Man of La Mancha” at Belleville Congregational Church when he was found dead in his home in April.

"He had been very sick and had lost a lot of weight," said Michelle Spadafora, founder of Amesbury Community Theatre. "He had a lot of medical issues that went undiagnosed. It was devastating, and it shook the cast to the core. Most of us couldn't even function."

Whateley was 64 when he died but, as is often said in the theater business, the show must go on.

Spadafora will present a concert version of the Dale Wasserman and Joe Darion “Man of La Mancha” libretto titled "The Impossible Dream” next weekend.

"There are 15 people in the cast and most of them were friends of Tom's," Spadafora said. "They want to see Tom's dream come to fruition, and based on that dedication and thanks to the stick-to-itiveness of the theater community, we decided the best way to honor Tom would be to make this dream of his come true."

The original “Man of La Mancha” production was Whateley's way of paying tribute to his own mentor, former Danvers High School theater director Michael Armento.

Whateley had been directing himself as Don Quixote in the April production but Armento's grandson, Michael Blanchette, has taken over the role in Whateley's honor.

"This will give me plenty to draw from," Blanchette said. "The range of this character is someone who is technically insane, so there are a lot of emotional peaks and valleys. He has his tender, sad moments, and I think I should be able to draw from something for those."

"I feel sad we have to do it in (Whateley's) honor and not with him," Spadafora said. "This is a big dream of his to do this. It is killing a lot of us but we are going to do this. He would want us to do it."

"The Impossible Dream” will be presented at Belleville Congregational Church, 300 High St., on Friday, July 19, at 7 p.m., Saturday, July 20, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., and Sunday, July 21, at 2 p.m.

The show will include dialogue and theatrical interludes. Whateley's assistant director, Nora Tinti, will be directing.

The cabaret-style show includes light refreshments. Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for seniors and available on the Amesbury Community Theatre website at www.amesburycommunitytheatre.org or by calling the box office at 978-518-7752.

Staff writer Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at jsullivan@newburyportnews.com or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.