Man of La Mancha started its life as a non-musical teleplay written by Dale Wasserman for CBS's DuPont Show of the Month program. This original staging starred Lee J. Cobb, Colleen Dewhurst, and Eli Wallach, and was of course not performed on a thrust stage, but on a television sound stage. The DuPont Corporation disliked the title Man of La Mancha, thinking that its viewing audience would not know what La Mancha actually meant, so a new title, I, Don Quixote, was chosen. Upon its telecast on November 9, 1959, the play won much critical acclaim.
Years after this television broadcast, and after the original teleplay had been unsuccessfully optioned as a non-musical Broadway play, director Albert Marre called Wasserman and suggested that he turn his play into a musical. Mitch Leigh was selected as composer who in turn selected for his orchestrations Carlyle W. Hall. Contrary to what has been misstated here, on an original Wiki entry derived from other sources, Mr. Leigh did not write the orchestrations under the name of his company Music Makers; rather, it was actually Hall, who was his employee and whose family retains the original orchestra ideas totally redone by Hall (a composition student of Tibor Serly and Bela Bartok, arranger for Arthur Godfrey's talent scouts). During the show's most recent Broadway revival in 2002, Mr. Leigh corrected history by reprinting all of the show's playbills and placing the name of Carlyle W. Hall Sr. in place of Music Makers, albeit posthumously for Mr. Hall. Several sources, however still credit Music Makers, Inc. with the orchestrations.  And in Mr. Leigh's article Music Hath Chasms, written for the original 1965 souvenir program of the show, Leigh himself states: "You will notice that I (italics mine) do not use string instruments (other than the two guitars and the string bass) in the score."
The original lyricist of the musical was poet W. H. Auden, but his lyrics were discarded, some of them considered too overtly satiric and biting, attacking the bourgeois audience at times. Auden's lyrics were replaced by those of Joe Darion. 
The musical first played at the Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut in 1964. Rex Harrison was to be the original star of this production, but the musical demands of the role were heavy for him. After 21 previews, the musical opened at the ANTA Washington Square Theatre in Greenwich Village on November 22, 1965, then moved to Broadway at the Martin Beck Theatre on March 20, 1968, then to the Eden Theatre on March 3, 1971, and finally to the Mark Hellinger Theatre on May 26, 1971 for its last month, a total original New York run of 2,329 performances. Richard Kiley won a Tony Award for his performance as Cervantes/Quixote in the original production, and it made Kiley a bona fide Broadway star. The original cast also included Irving Jacobson (Sancho), Ray Middleton (Innkeeper), Robert Rounseville (The Padre), and Joan Diener (Aldonza). John Cullum, José Ferrer, Hal Holbrook, and Lloyd Bridges also played Cervantes and Don Quixote during the run of the production. The musical was performed on a single set that suggested a dungeon. All changes in location were created by alterations in the lighting, by the use of props supposedly lying around the floor of the dungeon, and by reliance on the audience's imagination. More recent productions, however, have added more scenery.
The original West End London production was at the Piccadilly Theatre, opening on April 24, 1968 and running for 253 performances. Keith Michell starred, with Joan Diener reprising her original role and Bernard Spear as Sancho.
The play has been revived on Broadway four times:
1972 - with Richard Kiley as Cervantes/Quixote, running for 140 performances
1977 - with Richard Kiley as Cervantes/Quixote, Tony Martinez as Sancho Panza and Emily Yancy as Aldonza/Dulcinea, running for 124 performances.
1992 - with Raúl Juliá as Cervantes/Quixote and Sheena Easton as Aldonza/Dulcinea, running for 108 performances.
2002 - with Brian Stokes Mitchell as Cervantes/Quixote, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as Aldonza/Dulcinea, and Ernie Sabella as Sancho Panza, running for 304 performances.
In the 1972 film version, the title role went to Peter O'Toole (singing voice dubbed by Simon Gilbert), James Coco was Sancho, and Sophia Loren was Aldonza.
Hal Linden played Quixote in the show's 1988 U.S. National Tour, and Robert Goulet played Quixote in the 1997-98 U.S. National Tour.
It is the late sixteenth century. Failed author-soldier-actor and tax collector Miguel de Cervantes has been thrown into a dungeon by the Spanish Inquisition, along with his manservant. They have been charged with foreclosing on a monastery. The two have brought all their possessions with them into the dungeon. There, they are attacked by their fellow prisoners, who instantly set up a mock trial. If Cervantes is found guilty, he will have to hand over all his possessions. Cervantes agrees to do so, except for a precious manuscript which the prisoners are all too eager to burn. He asks to be allowed to offer a defense, and the defense will be a play, acted out by him and all the prisoners. The "judge", a big, burly but good-humored criminal called "the Governor", agrees.
Cervantes takes out a makeup kit from his trunk, and the manservant helps him get into a costume. In a few short moments, Cervantes has transformed himself into Alonso Quijana, an old gentleman who has read so many books of chivalry and thought so much about injustice that he has lost his mind and now believes that he should go forth as a knight-errant. Quijana renames himself Don Quixote de La Mancha, and sets out to find adventures with his "squire", Sancho Panza. They both sing the title song Man of La Mancha (I, Don Quixote).
Don Quixote warns Sancho that the pair are always in danger of being attacked by Quixote's mortal enemy, an evil magician known as the Enchanter. Suddenly he spots a windmill. Seeing its sails whirling, he mistakes it for a four-armed giant, attacks it, and receives a beating from the encounter. He thinks he knows why he has been defeated - it is because he has not been properly dubbed a knight. Looking off, he imagines he sees a castle (it is really a rundown roadside inn). He orders Sancho to announce their arrival by blowing his bugle, and the two proceed to the inn.
Cervantes talks some prisoners into assuming the roles of the inn's serving wench and part-time prostitute Aldonza and a group of muleteers, who are propositioning her. Fending them off sarcastically, (It's All The Same) she eventually deigns to accept their leader, Pedro, who pays in advance.
Don Quixote enters with Sancho, upset at not having been "announced" by a "dwarf". The Innkeeper (played by The Governor) treats them sympathetically and humors Don Quixote, but when Quixote catches sight of Aldonza, he believes her to be the lady Dulcinea, to whom he has sworn eternal loyalty. He sings Dulcinea. Aldonza, used to being roughly handled, is flabbergasted, then annoyed, at Quixote's strange and kind treatment of her.
Meanwhile, Antonia (Don Quixote's niece) has gone with Quixote's housekeeper to seek advice from the local priest. But the priest wisely realizes that the two women are more concerned with the embarrassment the knight's madness may bring than with his welfare. The three sing I'm Only Thinking of Him.
One of the prisoners, a cynic called "The Duke", is chosen by Cervantes to play Dr. Sanson Carrasco, Antonia's fiancé, a man just as cynical and self-centered as the prisoner who is playing him. Carrasco is upset at the idea of having a madman in his prospective new family, so he and the priest set out to cure Don Quixote and bring him back home.
Back at the inn, Sancho delivers a missive from Don Quixote to Aldonza courting her favor and asking for a token. Instead, Aldonza tosses an old dishrag at Sancho, but to Don Quixote the dishrag is a silken scarf. When Aldonza asks Sancho why he follows Quixote, he sings I Really Like Him. Alone, later, Aldonza sings What Does He Want of Me? In the courtyard, the muleteers once again taunt her with the suggestive song Little Bird, Little Bird.
The priest and Dr. Carrasco arrive, but cannot reason with Don Quixote, who suddenly spots a barber wearing his shaving basin on his head to ward off the sun's heat. (The Barber's Song) Quixote immediately snatches the basin from the barber at sword's point, believing it to be the miraculous Golden Helmet of Mambrino, which will make him invulnerable. Dr. Carrasco and the priest leave, with the priest impressed by Don Quixote's view of life and wondering if curing him is really worth it. (To Each His Dulcinea)
Meanwhile, Quixote asks the Innkeeper to dub him knight. The innkeeper agrees, but first Quixote must stand vigil all night over his armor. Quixote asks to be guided to the "chapel" for his vigil, and the Inkeeper hastily concocts an excuse: the "chapel" is "being repaired". Quixote decides to keep his vigil in the courtyard. As he does so, Aldonza, on her way to her rendezvous with Pedro, finally confronts him, but Quixote gently explains why he behaves the way he does (The Impossible Dream). Pedro enters, furious at being kept waiting, and slaps Aldonza. Enraged, Don Quixote takes him and all the other muleteers on in a huge fight, as the orchestra plays The Combat. Don Quixote has no martial skill, but by luck and determination - and with the help of Aldonza (who now sympathizes with Quixote) and Sancho - he prevails, and the muleteers are all knocked unconscious. But the noise has awakened the Innkeeper, who enters and kindly tells Quixote that he must leave. Quixote apologizes for the trouble, but reminds the Innkeeper of his promise to dub him knight. The Innkeeper does so (Knight of the Woeful Countenance).
Quixote then announces he must try to help the muleteers. Aldonza, whom Quixote still calls Dulcinea, is shocked, but after the knight explains that the laws of chivalry demand that he succor a fallen enemy, Aldonza agrees to help them. For her efforts, she is beaten, raped, and carried off by the muleteers, who leave the inn. (The Abduction) Quixote, in his small room, is blissfully ruminating over his recent victory and the new title that the innkeeper has given him - and completely unaware of what has just happened to Aldonza. (The Impossible Dream - first reprise)
At this point, the Don Quixote play is brutally interrupted when the Inquisition enters the dungeon and drags off an unwilling prisoner to be tried. The Duke taunts Cervantes for his look of fear, and accuses him of not facing reality. This prompts a passionate defense of idealism by Cervantes.
The Don Quixote play resumes (Man of La Mancha - first reprise). Quixote and Sancho have left the inn and encounter a band of Gypsies ("Moorish Dance") who take advantage of Quixote's naivete and proceed to steal everything they own, including Quixote's horse Rocinante and Sancho's donkey Dapple. The two are forced to return to the inn, where the Innkeeper tries to keep them out, but finally cannot resist letting them back in out of pity. Aldonza shows up with several bruises. Quixote swears to avenge her, but she angrily tells him off, begging him to leave her alone (Aldonza). Suddenly, another knight enters. He announces himself as Don Quixote's mortal enemy, the Enchanter, this time appearing as the "Knight of the Mirrors". He insults Aldonza, and is promptly challenged to combat by Don Quixote. The Knight of the Mirrors and his attendants bear huge shields with mirrors on them, and as they swing them at Quixote (Knight of the Mirrors) the glare from the sunlight blinds him. The attacking Knight taunts him, forcing him to see himself as the world sees him - a fool and a madman. Don Quixote collapses, weeping. The Knight of the Mirrors removes his own helmet - he is really Dr. Carrasco, returned with his latest plan to cure Quixote.
Cervantes announces that the story is finished at least as far as he has written it, but the prisoners are dissatisfied with the ending. They prepare to burn his manuscript, when he asks for the chance to present one last scene.
The Governor agrees, and we are now in Don Quixote's bedroom, where he has fallen into a coma. Antonia, Sancho, the Housekeeper, the priest, and Carrasco are all there. Sancho tries to cheer up Quixote (A Little Gossip). Don Quixote eventually awakens, and when questioned, reveals that he is now sane, remembering his knightly career as only a vague dream. He realizes that he is now dying, and asks the priest to help him make out his will. As Quixote begins to dictate, Aldonza forces her way in. She has come to visit Quixote because she has found that she can no longer bear to be anyone but Dulcinea. When he does not recognize her, she sings Dulcinea (reprise) to him and tries to help him remember the words of "The Impossible Dream". Suddenly, he remembers everything and rises from his bed, calling for his armor and sword so that he may set out again. (Man of La Mancha -second reprise) But it is too late - in mid-song, he suddenly groans and falls dead. The priest sings The Psalm for the dead. However, Aldonza now believes in him so much that, to her, Don Quixote will always live. When Sancho calls her by name, she asks him to call her Dulcinea.
The Inquisition enters to take Cervantes to his trial, and the prisoners, finding him not guilty, return his manuscript. It is, of course, his (as yet) unfinished novel, Don Quixote de la Mancha. As Cervantes and his servant mount the drawbridge-like staircase to go to their impending trial yet gleaming with courage, the prisoners sing The Impossible Dream in chorus.
Man of La Mancha
It's All the Same
I'm Only Thinking of Him
I Really Like Him
What Do You Want of Me?
Little Bird, Little Bird
Golden Helmet of Mambrino
To Each His Dulcinea
The Impossible Dream
The Combat (instrumental)
Knight of the Woeful Countenance
Little Bird, Little Bird (reprise), leading into an instrumental entitled The Abduction
The Impossible Dream (first reprise)
Man of La Mancha (first reprise)
Moorish Dance (instrumental)
Knight of the Mirrors (choreographed instrumental sequence)
A Little Gossip
Dulcinea (reprise) / The Impossible Dream (reprise) / Man of La Mancha (reprise) / The Psalm
Finale Ultimo: The Impossible Dream (reprise)
Foreign Language Stage Adaptations
A French adaptation, which featured the Belgian singer-songwriter Jacques Brel in the lead role, was recorded and issued in 1968 as the album L'Homme de la Mancha. Joan Diener reprised her role as Aldonza (this time singing in French).
Another French version was produced in Liège in 1998 and 1999 with José van Dam in the lead role.
José Sacristán and Paloma San Basilio starred in a Spanish version, El Hombre de la Mancha, in 1997. This was a revival; the show had already been produced in Spain in the 1960's.
Awards and nominations
1966 Tony Award nominations
Tony Award for Best Musical - Written by Dale Wasserman; Music by Mitch Leigh; Lyrics by Joe Darion; Produced by Albert W. Selden, Hal James (WINNER)
Tony Award for Best Composer and Lyricist - Music by Mitch Leigh; Lyrics by Joe Darion (WINNER)
Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical - Richard Kiley (WINNER)
Tony Award for Best Scenic Design - Howard Bay (WINNER)
Tony Award for Best Costume Design - Howard Bay, Patton Campbell
Tony Award for Best Choreography - Jack Cole
Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical - Albert Marre (WINNER)
New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Musical
1978 Drama Desk Award nomination for Outstanding Actor in a Musical - Richard Kiley
2003 Tony Award nominations
Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical - Produced by David Stone, Jon B. Platt, Susan Quint Gallin, Sandy Gallin, Seth M. Siegel, USA OSTAR Theatricals; Produced in association with Mary Lu Roffe
Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical - Brian Stokes Mitchell
Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical - Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio
2003 Drama Desk Award nominations
Outstanding Revival of a Musical - Produced by David Stone, Jon B. Platt, Susan Quint Gallin, Sandy Gallin, Seth M. Siegel, USA OSTAR Theatricals; Produced in association with Mary Lu Roffe
Outstanding Actor in a Musical - Brian Stokes Mitchell
^ www.Broadway.tv article "Broadway Hidden Treasures Revealed"
^ NC Theatre study guide for the musical
^ The gypsy scene is omitted in some productions
Wasserman, Dale. The Impossible Musical - The Man of La Mancha Story (2003) Applause Books, New York
Study guide for Man of La Mancha
Information about the musical from MusicalHeaven.com
Information about the history of the musical
Information about the musical with links to recording and sheet music information
Synopsis and song lyrics from AllMusicals.com