Mitch Leigh was born on Jan. 30, 1928. He grew up in Brownsville, the Brooklyn neighborhood that spawned Bugsy Siegel, Bummy Davis and Murder Inc.
He was always a non-conformist, and chose not to join the cellar clubs and hang out in the pool halls. Rather, he opted to occupy his time with athletic competition. He fought in amateur bouts and was an all-city basketball player. But his main love was music, and the education he received from the High School of Music and Art was the vehicle that gave him the opportunity to rise above environmental restraints.
Leigh idolized the big band era orchestra leader/clarinetist Benny Goodman, so naturally he played the clarinet.
He studied music at Yale University, and played gigs with the jazz groups that backed up Billie Holiday at Kelly’s Stable on Manhattan’s 52nd Street.
He began composing music for theater, and with Joe Darion as lyricist, he wrote the music for the 1965-66 Broadway season’s biggest hit — Man of La Mancha, which included the songs “The Impossible Dream” and “Dulcinea.” In 1966, Leigh won two Tony awards for his work on that musical.
He also produced and directed a touring company production of The King and I, which starred Yul Brenner. In 1970, Cry For Us All opened at the Broadhurst Theatre with a score composed by Leigh, lyrics by William Alfred. The show closed after nine performances, not due to Leigh’s music but the poor adaption from the original play Hogan’s Goat.
This article was written by Vernon Parker (1923-2004)