Russian actor Vladimir Zeldin is a phenomenon worthy of the Guinness book of world records: he celebrated his 90th jubilee with two remarkable premieres in a row. At present the 92 year old actor admired by several generations of cinema and theatre lovers is engaged in a number of stage productions of the Russian Army Theatre where he has been working for over 60 years.
Vladimir Mikhailovich Zeldin was born on February, 10, 1915 in the town of Kozlov (nowadays Michurinsk). In 1935 he graduated from the theatre college at the Mossovet Theatre and became its actor. For a short period (1938-41 and 1943-45) he worked at the Central Theatre of Transport (at present N. V. Gogol Theatre). During evacuation (1941-43) Zeldin was engaged in the company of the Russian Drama Theater in Alma-Ata. Since 1945 he has been working in the Soviet Army Theatre (now the Russian Army Theatre). Vladimir Zeldin became an all-Union celebrity in 1941 starring in the comedy "Svinarka i pastukh" (Swineherd and Shepherd). His most famous works as a film actor include also "Skazanie o zemle sibirskoy" (The Ballad of Siberia, 1947), "Uchitel tantsev" (Dance Teacher, 1952), "Karnavalnaya noch" (Carnival Night, 1956), "Dyadya Vanya" (Uncle Vanya, 1970), "Desyat negrityat" (Ten Little Niggers, 1987), and others.
In February 2005 Vladimir Zeldin celebrated his 90th anniversary with the premiere of the musical "Man of La Mancha" (translated into Russian) where he performs 17 musical and 7 choreographic turns, starring both as Don Quixote and Cervantes. The musical by John Darion and Dale Wasserman was first staged in Russia in Mayakovsky Theatre in 1972. In 2005 Yuli Gusman staged the musical specially for Vladimir Zeldin. But why Don Quixote? When you watch Zeldin playing you understand it is not by mere chance.
The actor explains: "My monologues in this play fit into my life. Quixote says: "I saw my comrades dying at the battle field, and I held them in my hands when they were meeting death" ? all this was in my life, too, I was at war and felt the same, and from the depth of my heart I can convey these feelings to the audience. They say about Quixote that he is cranky, but he is much wiser than all the surrounding people who are utterly pragmatic about life. He states: "One should see the world not as it is but as it should be!" It is a very well-timed play, and not because I want it to be like that but because the public takes it in such a way. It is impossible to fake silence in the hall or standing ovations ? and we have it at our "Man of La Mancha"! It turns out that in our sinister time when terror acts have become normal this play is quite on time. It speaks about humaneness and kindness; it claims that a man must not kill a man, a man must not oppress a man."
The musical is traditionally spectacular, just like it should be: with windmill wings rotating, mirrors glittering, and starry sky sparkling. However, Vladimir Zeldin needs neither showy special effects, nor lip-synching: he is a first rate professional equally good at acting, singing and choreography. At the end of performance he always sings an encore and the viewers invariably rise to applaud the romantic and Don Quixote of the theatre who has made his longstanding dream come true in spite of anything, even his age.