Mitch Leigh, the Tony Award-winning songwriter behind Man of La Mancha and the enduring anthem "The Impossible Dream," has died at the age of 86, his family has confirmed.
Born Irwin Michnick on January 30, 1928, Leigh grew up in Brooklyn, attended Yale University on the G.I. Bill after serving in the army, and received bachelor's and master's degrees in music in the early 1950s. For years, he wrote incidental music for Broadway plays and jingles (including "Nobody Doesn't Like Sara Lee"), but it was a call from the Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut in 1964 that changed his life.
It was the opportunity to coauthor, with Joe Darion, songs for the new show Man of La Mancha, a stage adaptation of Dale Wasserman's 1959 teleplay I, Don Quixote. Opening in 1965, the musical drama transferred to the ANTA Washington Square Theatre in November 1965, before moving to Broadway's Martin Beck Theatre, the Eden Theatre, and the Mark Hellinger Theatre in the later years of its run. It played a total of 2,329 performances in New York City and later toured the world. Leigh and Darion won Tonys for their score.
None of Leigh's other musicals, namely Homer Sweet Homer, Sarava, Chu Chem, and Ain't Broadway Grand achieved as much success, each of them closing on Broadway after brief runs. Man of La Mancha was last seen on Broadway in 2002, in a production starring Brian Stokes Mitchell and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, and is currently playing a national tour.
In his later years, Leigh was the mastermind behind the building of Jackson 21, a green-living community for artists in Jackson Township, New Jersey. He even took to television to promote the area himself, in a series of commercials calling for inquiries that famously end with Leigh pleading, "If you're not a nice person, please don't call."
Leigh is survived by his children, Rebecca, David, and Andy, and his wife of 42 years, painter Abby Leigh.