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Mitch Leigh and Man of La Mancha


Mitch Leigh, born Irwin Michnick (January 30, 1928 – March 16, 2014) was an American musical theatre composer, arranger, orchestrator, and theatrical producer and director best known for the musical Man of La Mancha.  Born in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY, son of a Jewish furrier from Ukraine, he served in the Army and attended Yale University on the G.I. bill, graduating in 1951 with a Bachelor of Music, and in 1952 receiving his Master of Music under Paul Hindemith.  He began his career as a jazz musician, and writing commercials for radio and television. In 1955 the little-known LP recording of Jean Shepherd Into the Unknown with Jazz Music was produced with Leigh writing the music for the jazz interludes between radio broadcaster Jean Shepherd’s improvisations. He established Music Makers, Inc., in 1957 as a radio and television commercial production house and was its creative director. Also he composed the instrumental music for the ABC Color Logo (1962-65). Also, he composed incidental music for a couple of short-lived Broadway comedies — Too True to Be Good (1963) and Never Live Over a Pretzel Factory (1964).

In 1965 Leigh teamed with lyricist Joe Darion and writer Dale Wasserman to write a musical based on Wasserman’s 1959 television play, I, Don Quixote. The resulting show, the musical Man of La Mancha opened on Broadway in 1965 and in its original engagement ran for 2,328 performances.  Leigh won a Tony Award for composing the music for Man Of La Mancha and received the Contemporary Classics Award from the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame for “The Impossible Dream.”  Leigh’s next show was Chu Chem. This show followed Man of La Mancha by exactly one year, but closed on the road. Produced by Leigh, it opened on Broadway in 1989 for 68 performances.  Cry for Us All, based on the play, Hogan’s Goat, opened on Broadway in 1970 but ran for 9 performances. Leigh was the producer as well as composer. His next musical was Home Sweet Homer, starring Yul Brynner, which opened on Broadway officially in January 1976 but closed after one performance. He produced as well as was the composer for Saravà which ran for 101 performances in 1979.

In 1977, Leigh and others at the Yale School of Music established the Keith Wilson scholarship, to be awarded “to an outstanding major in wind instrument playing.”  He went on to produce the 1983 Broadway revival of Mame, then both produced and directed the 1985 revival of The King and I starring Yul Brynner for which he was nominated for a Tony Award as the director. Lee Adams asked Leigh to collaborate on a musical, entitled Mike, about producer Mike Todd, but it closed during its pre-Broadway tryout in 1988. After renaming it Ain’t Broadway Grand!, the show made it to Broadway, but closed after 25 performances in 1993.  He also wrote the musical Halloween with Sidney Michaels, and even with the cast of Barbara Cook and José Ferrer, it never made it to Broadway. A building in The School of Music at Yale University was named “Abby and Mitch Leigh Hall” in 2001.  Leigh endowed a chair in jazz at Yale University, the Willie Ruff Chair in Jazz, in 2006.  Leigh died at Manhattan on March 16, 2014, from natural causes at the age of 86.

My collection includes the following works by Mitch Leigh:
Man of La Mancha (1965): Medley and The Impossible Dream (The Quest)

—material selected, adapted, and edited from several different sources


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