Joe Darion, the Tony Award-winning lyricist of Man of La Mancha, one of the major international hits from the American musical theatre, died June 16 in New Hampshire at the age of 90.
For 1965's Man of La Mancha, with composer Mitch Leigh, Mr. Darion penned "The Impossible Dream," the durable and widely-known inspirational ballad. The song explained the philosophy of the impoverished, addled Spaniard, Don Quixote, who believed himself to be a knight who would "right the unrightable wrong" and "reach the unreachable star," to say nothing of being "willing to march into hell for a heavenly cause." The musical, which won a Tony for Best Musical in 1965, was drawn from Miguel Cervantes' 17th-century novel, "Don Quixote," as distilled through a script by Dale Wasserman. Leigh wrote several songs for the show with the poet W.H. Auden, but they disagreed about aspects of the project, so Darion was enlisted. The show began life at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, CT, and had a smash success for 2,328 performances on Broadway.
Although Darion also wrote book and lyrics for the Broadway musical, Shinbone Alley (based on the fanciful "Archy and Mehitabel" stories), and lyrics for Broadway's Ilya, Darling (a version of the film, "Never on Sunday"), La Mancha remains his monument. The score includes such songs as the dreamy "Dulcinea," the reflective "To Each His Dulcinea" and the raw "Aldonza." Some critics point to the much revived Man of La Mancha — 1972, 1977 and 1992, all on Broadway — as a precursor to the literature-rooted pop musicals that would arrive in the 1980s (Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera, for example).
According to his Playbill biography, Mr. Darion "has worked in every field in which words are put to music, from popular songs, to works for the concert stage." He wrote lyrics for the pop hits "Changing Partners," "Ricochet" and "Midnight Train." He also wrote the oratorio operas Galileo and And David Wept (both with Ezra Landerman) and cantatas and a mass.
His work for La Mancha is preserved on several cast albums, and the motion picture that starred Peter O'Toole. — By Kenneth Jones