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The Man Who Dreamed Up ‘The Impossible Dream’

Being a one-hit wonder might be enough if your single stroke of genius turns out to be one of the most enduring, oft-recorded songs in the history of popular music – “The Impossible Dream (The Quest)” from the 1965 Broadway musical Man of La Mancha.

'The Impossible Dream' by Mitch LeighComposer Mitch Leigh, who died on March 16 at age 86 in New York City, was a Yale-educated advertising-jingle writer with a couple of short-lived theatrical productions to his credit when, in an unlikely twist of fate, he was hired to write the music for a musical play-within-a-play about 17th century novelist Miguel de Cervantes and his masterpiece Don Quixote. The producers intended for Leigh to work with the famous poet W.H. Auden, who’d been hired as the lyricist. But Auden’s work turned out to be so downbeat and caustic that he was replaced by another relative unknown, Joe Darion, who’d penned the words for a few Top 10 singles, such as Red Buttons’ 1953 comedy hit “The Ho Ho Song.”

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Somehow, though, Leigh and Darion managed to create a song that resonated far and wide beyond the Broadway stage. (“Nobody was more surprised than we were,” Darion, who died in 2001, once admitted to music historian Michael Whorf.) Over the years,  the stirring pop standard has been covered by at least 80 different artists, including Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Robert Goulet, Perry Como, Cher, Jennifer Hudson, Tom Jones, Roberta Flack and Placido Domingo.

“The Impossible Dream” became such a cultural touchstone, in fact, that scores of performers have adapted it to their own purposes. Here are a few of the most striking reinterpretations:




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